So after the horrors of the school trip there is the (shorter) but equally pants experience of Sports Day. So much for non-competitive sports – you ain’t seen nothing till you've seen ....drum roll please....the Competitive Parents.
You might think that this kind of thing only happens at Senior School by which age kids might be showing some real signs of sporting talent to be nurtured and encouraged by adoring mummies and daddies – Lord no! If anything the battlefield is far bloodier at Primary level.
I have known people who:
- · Were caught training their child in a local park, making her run endless laps, all the while timing her with a stop watch and screaming at her to go faster. This was a performance they repeated on Sports Day at school, one parent at the finishing line, apoplectic and purple-faced and the other running alongside the race track, yelling at the unfortunate kid.
- · Invented a case of Osgood-Schlatter’s disease the better to buy their child a head start in every race, including at the swimming gala (swimming is non-weight bearing, surely?) where she unsurprisingly cleaned up.
- · Suddenly whipped a pair of spikes out of her capacious designer handbag just before the mummies race (“oh it’s just a bit of fun, isn’t it?”).
- · Two dads who came close to punching each other over perceived dirty tricks in the dads’ race
And countless others too tedious to repeat.
What is it about these occasions that produces the worst kind of competitive spirit? It’s just about the only time that parents will brazenly slag off other people’s children, snarling at anyone whose kid runs faster/jumps higher than theirs.
It is almost comical when it’s time for the parents’ race and you have that telephone box moment, when erstwhile charming daddy spins at high speed and suddenly emerges dressed as Superman or, more accurately, SuperPrat. Ask any man (well, the Shah) and he will loftily announce that there is no point entering a race if you are not going to try and win. My response is that trying to win is fine – trying to kill your fellow competitors on the field is not and is also a really bad example to set.
The other thing that drives me insane about Sports Day (and don’t start me on Prize Giving) is the concept of “We’re All Winners Here.” (Possibly my least favourite phrase ever, along with ‘Please make cheques payable to HMRC’) Although children may come first, second and third, EVERYONE gets a prize – aah! Just like real life! NOT. How the hell are any of these kids going to learn to cope with failure in the real world?
Compare and contrast with the event that is a secondary level Sports Day. I popped into TD’s Sports Day for an hour recently – and that’s another thing – why do they have to go on for bleedin’ hours on end? Hers lasted four hours by the time all the prizes had been given at the end – yawn. It was a blazing hot day and the parents’ association was serving cream teas (looking slightly sweaty in the heat) and Pimms (massively watered down for Health & Safety reasons). Parents were sitting around at tables gossiping and largely ignoring any signs of physical activity. The girls were gathered together in forms or houses or gangs or whatever, (I haven’t a clue) and were chanting for their teams and largely ignoring their parents.
One couple had lain on a blanket and just gone to sleep. It was quite a bizarre sight – they didn’t have the body language of people who just happened to have drifted off in the sun, they honestly looked as if they had deliberately set themselves up for a snooze, pillows under their heads, looking really comfortable. From time to time Mr Sleepy would come round long enough to wipe a bit of drool from the side of his mouth before snuggling down next to wifey once more. I didn’t see a child go near them – probably too damn embarrassed – “Hey Jemima – I couldn’t hear the results for your dad snoring...”
When girls spoke to their parents it was hardly with the delight of yesteryear – remember how little Jemima’s 6 year-old face lit up when she realised that Mummy had arrived in time for her starring role in the Egg and Spoon Race? Hah! Not any longer! Talk about Not Wanted on Voyage. Most girls were greeting their parents (who had largely rearranged difficult work schedules and battled to get there on time) with a curl of the lip and “you’re not staying long are you? And don’t get drunk.”
I bumped into one such parent whom I vaguely know (and like much more after this exchange). “Fucking hell,” she hissed at me from behind sunglasses the size of dinner plates. “I’ve driven an hour to get here, cancelled a meeting by pretending to have a migraine, spent 20 minutes trying to park, hiked 5 miles to the sodding sports field and the first thing she says to me is ‘when are you leaving?’ Fuck me!” We decided to drown our sorrows in Pimms but it was deeply reminiscent of gnat’s piss, so that was another failure. TD was slightly more gracious in her approach. I did get a “Hi Mum!” as she strolled by on endless legs. “My race is soon.” I wished her good luck and assured her that I’d be watching her and didn’t realise until afterwards that she hadn’t actually stopped to talk to me, just kept moving inexorably on like an escalator in permanent motion, waving over her shoulder as she went.