Why School Sports Day is one of the biggest losses of 2020

This week would have seen school sports days for hundreds and thousands of children – and parents – take place up and down the country.

The absence of a communal sports day gathering this year has seen schools and councils dream up a raft of ideas to encourage children to get active this week. The initiatives mostly revolve around children setting their own sports target, performing it and submitting their efforts online.

All wonderfully worthy efforts and ones that, from speaking anecdotally, has elicited a proactive response from the nation’s children. 

This week is usually also dubbed Sports Week across the UK’s schools – with the kids going into school every day in the sports kit, visits arranged with local sports clubs, lessons all geared towards increasing knowledge around physical education with the climax of the week arriving on sports day.

But this week, sadly, has just felt like any other and the absence of a sports day is being as keenly felt as much as all the other benefits that schools provide.

Sports day at Leigham School

Of course the formats for sports day varies from school to school in the UK, depending on teaching resources, facilities, parental help, the weather and – most importantly – the attitude taken by the school towards sport. And the designated ‘sports day’ is so often maligned in certain quarters for either being overly competitive and bringing the worst out of people (parents, mostly) with its emphasis on winning races and receiving medals, cups and ribbons or for being too democratic with prized being given to all participants and stickers distributed to everyone saying ‘I took part’. After all, that is not the way prizes are handed out for achievements in the classroom.

But there is, as so often, a middle ground to this – and one that we believe in at Sportside. Activity, of course, does not have to be competitive – but at its essence all sport has an element of competition.

And a great way to get people active is to introduce them to that notion of competitive sport in an annual sports day. Whether you are competing against others to win a prize or against yourself to record a Personal Best, sport is a means of pushing yourself to do better. As the golfer Gary Player famously remarked: ‘and the more I practise, the luckier I get.’

A sports day which equally celebrates those trying their absolute best as well as those who run the fastest, throw the farthest and jump the longest, is one which fits with the Sportside ethos of participation and self-improvement. If a child finished sports day, proud of their achievements and keen to get out there and do even better next time, then that is a result for physical and mental well-being.

Setting goals for yourself, in sport as in life, is a key driver for mental well-being.

Olympic Day was also celebrated this week (June 23) and many Olympians, denied their own ‘sports day’ in Tokyo this year, marked the occasion by posting their own workouts, just as our Sportside influencers have been doing. 

They called it the world’s first digital 24-hour workout. It wasn’t a competition – it was simply a call to arms to Stay Active.

But the people delivering that call were some of the most competitive athletes in the world.

To perform at the Olympics and Paralympics is so often seen as the pinnacle of sporting achievement. Just to reach that stage is one of the highest accolades that can be bestowed upon an athlete. And the ideal that the Olympic movement trumpets is Citius, Altius, Fortius. Meaning Swifter, Higher, Stronger.

The Olympic Movement has used that motto since 1924  to inspire Olympians to achieve their best at the biggest sports day showpiece of them all. Some – very few – win medals for their efforts. Others – the majority – suffer the disappointment of not winning. But all want to be able to look back on their Olympic journey and say they gave the very best they had to give on the day.

As Olympic bronze medallist Anthony Ogogo said on behalf of Team GB: “The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games may have been postponed by a year, but we can still take inspiration from everything that the Olympics stands for by promoting healthy wellbeing and the Olympic Values to young people and demonstrate how these can be weaved into everyday life.”

It was wonderful, too, to see Team GB take on Olympic Day and spread it over five days into this weekend. It provided families and teachers with a range of ‘Get Set and Travel to Tokyo’ resources to inspire young people to maintain healthy and active lifestyles. 

Its ‘Having a Sports Day at Home’ idea has seen Olympians and the public come together to create obstacle courses and highly original events in their back gardens and nearby public spaces. 

Yes, it has been wonderful. But not the same. It has lacked the two things that make playing sport so appealing all over the world: community and competition.

Without an element of social interaction and a bit of face-to-face competition, sport cannot truly exist. Sports day will be back next year and Sportside will be there, cheering on the nation’s children by the running tracks and sandpits across the UK and urging them, afterwards, to Stay Active.

More news