29 June 2014

I recently read a newspaper column that touched a nerve and, from my perspective, is worth a collective discussion (or debate) to canvas opinion.

The piece argued that we shouldn’t “label” our children winners or losers, as if we’re all in the habit of standing up at school sports days and heckling our own offspring as they limp dejectedly back from lost egg and spoon races! It painted a pretty negative picture of competition and its effects on children and, whilst everyone sees things like this from a different perspective, I have to disagree.

Tug of war at UKFast Campus

Tug of war at UKFast Campus

I touched upon the issues of sport and competition last week, but the more I think about it, the more it concerns me. A friend and UKFast colleague recently told me about his son’s school sports day, at which he had heard the head teacher exclaim: “there will be no winners and losers today.” As a parent – and I think a lot of parents would agree (I certainly do) – he expressed frustration at this failure to award recognition to the kids who excelled at sport. He asked, “If they carried this over to exam results, would everyone be given the same grade?”

It’s an interesting question, but one we all know the answer to. Of course they wouldn’t. So if some children get A’s and B’s in class while others do not, why is a similar achievement out on the field not rewarded in the same kind of way? Isn’t it double standards to have league tables but, in the same breath, say that there are no winners or losers at sports days? What about the stress children are put under to achieve the highest grades in their examinations? Isn’t this potentially more damaging than a bit of healthy competition?

The kids who don’t come first at sports days don’t get penalised for it, and rightly so. Yet I would argue that by not recognising the winners, we are penalising them. Not everyone is gifted academically. Speaking from experience, this is very frustrating growing up. I was never good at exams, but music and sports made up for that and they taught me a lot.

I worry that we’re not adequately preparing our children for failure. The most important thing about succeeding is being able to pick yourself up when you fail. Of the successful people I know and admire, a high percentage failed at least a few times along the way (that high percentage is 100, by the way). If we translate this to the running track, for example, missing out by a couple of seconds frustrates you because you know you could have done better. Even as a child, it gives you that determination to come back stronger next time. Coming last is equally important – you might vow to never come last again and aim to come second last next time. It’s still an achievement.

Anyone for a game?

Anyone for a game?

Don’t get me wrong, it breaks my heart when I see one of my daughters getting beaten at a certain sport, but Gail and I are here to provide the pep talk afterwards; to encourage them to keep working at it and remind them of the things they are winners at.

If we just focus on academia in Britain then we will fail globally. At UKFast, when we interview people, we focus on team sport and other activities more than exam results. Is there something to be said from someone’s sport of choice and position within a team? I think there is – although that might be for another blog! Either way, not allowing winners and losers isn’t real – it doesn’t happen in the outside world where we’re measured at every point in life. It’s important we learn these lessons as children, honing the skill of bouncing back when we don’t quite achieve what we want and building the confidence to try again.


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