Thursday, 11 June 2009

A Question of Sport

It's Junior's school sports day today (weather permitting) and he is so excited about it. I often wonder where this streak of enthusiasm for all things physical comes from because it's certainly not from me.
I used to dread sports day and not without good reason. It wasn't that I was a fat child (that came much later) it's just that I seemed to lack something fundamental when it came to P.E. I hated exercise as much then (with the exception of my bike) as I do now. School sports day was the pinnacle of torture as far as I was concerned. It would start long before the actual day. When all my peers were clapping and whooping with delight and anticipation, I would come out in a cold sweat at the very first mention of the event. Team picking would begin early. Even typing those words has sent a shiver down my spine. Before the days of political correctness, team picking usually took the form of the class teacher choosing the most athletic and popular members of the class to be team leaders and then to let them choose their teams. We would all sit on the benches like lambs going to the slaughter and wait for our names to be called. And wait...and wait... There was always the inevitable stragglers left behind (me included) who would form the last team. We looked remarkably like something out of Michael Jackson's Thriller video. Underdogs would be an understatement. To put it kindly there wasn't a pound of any of us hanging right. It still amazes me that teachers could have been so cruel (although perhaps not much has changed as Junior informed me this morning that his team are called "The Foxes" while his best pal is in the team called "The Worms"!).
Looking back, it was Darwinism happening before our eyes. Only the strong survive. Survival of the fastest (sic). I didn't have a competitive bone in my body, I just wanted the whole ordeal to be over as quickly as possible. I can remember actually praying the night before my P7 sports day that it would rain. Typical that the next day was the hottest on record and so with a heavy heart I packed my sky blue, terry towelling shorts and headed off for school.
If I think about it hard enough I can actually smell those musty, coloured bibs, you know the kind that let's everyone know what team you belong to (not that my team could ever have been mistaken. We looked like the Bash Street Kids). The bibs had elastic bottoms and were so uncomfortable that they just added insult to injury. Off we would all trundle to the local park, all carrying various implements of torture - scratchy sacks for the sack race, balls, cones, hoops, space hoppers (it was the 70's and 80's so no sports day would have been complete without the obligatory orange, rubber spheres with horns sprouting out the top!). I can remember the local residents hanging out of their windows and cheering words of encouragement. It was like we were going to war. And in some ways we were.
The Four Legged Race. Now, what a great idea (did you detect the sarcasm there?)
"Hurrah children, how about some ankle-breaking fun!"
I actually remember a girl losing her front tooth during the four legged race. It was all about rhythm and co-ordination you see and if you didn't have those two gifts you were pretty much taking your life (and your incisors) in your hands. The egg and spoon race was relatively tame and quite a relief for those of us who lacked talent in the speed department. We could walk slowly under the guise of being extra careful not to drop our egg (or potato (!) although strangely it was still called the egg and spoon race).
The worst part of the day for me was the obstacle course. Now I'm older and wiser I can visualise some sadistic teacher sitting alone in the staff room after hours, conjuring up the most difficult and humiliating activity course he could think of, laughing like a mad scientist. Cones and nets, benches and balls - the uncoordinated child's worst nightmares all rolled into one. What I'm about to tell you, I have never talked about so please don't laugh.
1982. A rare occasion, my team were winning at the obstacle race - we did it in relays and I was up last. I remember getting halfway across the most horrific obstacle course with plenty of time to spare.
"Now's my chance to prove I can win something, to leave this day with my head held high" I thought as I gave it my all.
I had negotiated the huge rectangle of sweaty tarpaulin (commando style, which is not pleasant if you have mild claustrophobia), the balance beam (which again is tricky if you have size 7 feet at 11 years old) and the tossing of the beanbag into the bucket and it was now time to step into the plastic Hula Hoop and pull it up over my body before moving on to the final sprint. The end was tantalising close and I was sensing a euphoria never before felt on the sports field. Horror upon horror's the hoop would not shift past my terry towelling covered buttocks. I am sweating now thinking about it. It simply wouldn't budge and the team were yelling for me to hurry up - they too had smelled the unfamiliar whiff of success and were not going to give it up without a fight. Hope faded as I saw the other team members gaining speed. I panicked and wriggled free, running with a last gasp of energy for the finish line. I got there just in time to win but my team was disqualified because I hadn't made it through the hoop. Never again did I come that close to winning a medal for anything sports related. It was my one chance and I blew it. To this day I have a phobia of Hula Hoops and the only kind you'll ever see me near are the edible kind.
In all my years of school I never won anything at sports days. Not even a rosette for trying my best in the face of adversity. A a couple of hours of sheer hell later and all there was to show for it was a sprained ankle (four legged race), a cluster of purple bruises (5 aside football), friction burns on the palms of my hands (Tug o War) and a healthy sprinkling of humiliation just to top it all off nicely.
I am confident that Junior will do well at his sports day today and I suppose like all parents I will live vicariously through him. Above all I just want him to enjoy it and not to come away from it with memories that make him feel sick when he's older. It's all hugely competitive nowadays and that's just the Mums and Dads yelling from the sidelines! I can promise you I won't be one of those parents although I will have a smile on my face if he makes it to the finish line first.


  1. For such good friends, how different we are! Sports days were always better than sitting in the classroom.

    3 legged races were fun, unless you got tied to someone you did not like :o)

  2. It just shows you how much I know about sport - I put FOUR legged race! Duh!!!

  3. At least you had the excuse of being a child when you suffered your sporting humiliation. I will sum mine up for you: 38 years old, half marathon, blisters, lost, old man in red shorts, girl in pink tutu, Tom Tom tee-shirt, 3rd last, sun burn! It's all good fun :-) xx