The Sports Day dilemma

Does competitive sport still have a place in our schools?

Beth Fenner

Does competitive sport still have a place in our schools?

Sports Day Sack Race ©D.taylor.shaut 

Sports Day, a day that splits the nation. Some have fond memories of winning medals or trophies, racing their friends to victory and relishing a competition that they could shine in. Others wish they could forget altogether, the day bringing back memories of humiliation and anxiety. In our increasingly politically correct society, sports days have been a hot topic of debate, with suggestions that they no longer have a place in schools because they are unfair on the children who do not have a sporting talent. But, is this really a reasonable argument for scrapping competition that gives a different group of children the platform to excel?

Last place. A place that no one strives for, but which is inevitable for at least one team or individual where competition is concerned. Someone will always have to lose, but is this really a good enough excuse to cut off competition altogether? Humiliation is a word that is often associated with losing in a sporting competition. Think of the England football team, currently in Russia, the nations hopes on their shoulders once again. Think of the fifty years the country has waited for global success, only to be disappointed each time. Despite all that, have they given up on competing altogether? No, they pick themselves back up and try again. Yes, it can be argued that they are paid to do it, but this same determination to never give up is reflected in competitive sport at all levels; if a school team doesn’t win a tournament, the simple solution is just to train harder. If our children see their role models and heroes fighting back after a devastating loss, they will too. That’s what competitive sport teaches us, to lose with integrity and to win with honesty and to stare at humiliation in the face and laugh back. It teaches us a number of values that are transferable into our everyday lives that many other subjects cannot. Values such as teamwork, leadership, communication, and discipline can all be learned through competition. Competition is a true reflection of life; sometimes we will fail, but we learn from our mistakes, pick ourselves back up and try again, a lesson that holds more importance for the majority than learning about equations or semi colons.

On an episode of Good Morning Britain[1], presenters Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid clashed over this exact issue of competitive sports days. Susanna articulated that because sport is so important and good for us, to just reward those good at sport will exclude children and discourage involvement in exercise, which would be detrimental to our children’s health. This can be seen in obesity figures This continues to be the case with statistics from 2018 suggesting that childhood obesity is prevalent in 20% of all children in year 6. These figures show little sign of changing over the past 10 years, indicating that we need to do more to get our children involved in sport and exercise. It can therefore be argued that the use of competitive sport would be detrimental to increasing participation in sport, as many children are put off when, despite trying their best, they cannot achieve the success of their friends. Consequently many people suggest that celebrating participation, by getting rid of all competition and introducing participation certificates and medals is the way forward to ensuring all children enjoy getting involved in sport.



Despite the encouragement for participation in sport, academic exams still take an important role in our children’s education. This is a cause for contestation amongst those that champion competitive sport, as if people don’t think it’s fair for children that don’t excel physically, why is it fair to test those children who do not excel academically? Many dispute that exams are academic competitions, and once again there has to be a child that comes bottom. In fact, statistics from Childline[3] exemplify that there has been an 11% rise in counselling sessions given based on exam stress in the past two years. So if exams are detrimental to mental health of children, why are they not being discouraged like competitive sport is?

Figures suggest [4]that participation rates of children who have been involved in competitive school sport in the past 12 months are significantly lower than in 2012. Only 42% of children have played sport in their school in organised competition compared to 53% in 2012 and participation rates in events such as sports day have also decreased. In addition, just 76% of children aged 5-15 participated in competitive sport in or outside school in the past 12 months compared to 80% in 2012. These stark differences indicate that competitive sport is slowly starting to decline in our schools, reflecting our societies increasing concerns about this issue.

On balance, encouragement of participation is vital to combating our nations childhood obesity problems, as well as ensuring our children gain fundamental values imperative to development. After all, getting involved is what really matters and is what will inspire longevity in sports participation. However, children who excel in sport should be given their moment to shine, like their academic counterparts would be. As Piers Morgan stated, children are good at different things, so why can’t they be allowed to celebrate their success. Ultimately, sports day and competitive sport should be here to stay.

Beth Fenner






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