Everyone’s a Winner!


My children’s schools’ attitude to their sports day has me asking the question – ‘when did winning become such a no-no?’ I remember sports day during my primary school years with great fondness. They were always great days! Not being in any way, shape or form the athletic type, I was far from winning gold every time, but boy do I remember winning an egg-and-spoon race one year. I was determined to win that particular year so I practised my little heart out and it paid off – I won ! That was at least 30 years ago now but I still remember the feeling like it was yesterday; what I don’t remember though is how I felt on the times I didn’t win (and there would have been many).


The year my eldest started school, her sports day was unfortunately rained off so I expected quite a dissapointed little lady to meet me after school. However, she bounded out with a bright shiny rosette. Well I was chuffed! ‘What did you receive that for?’ I asked, brimming with pride. ‘For sports day!’ she replied. ‘Oh!’ says I, ‘you had some races indoors then?’ ‘No Mum, sports day was cancelled – we just all got one of these anyway!’ WHAT? I am still not the right of that, and you know what? Neither she nor I could tell you where that rosette is now.

All about taking part!

All about taking part!

The following year, sports day went ahead, but oh no God forbid there would be prizes for winning – every senior infant received a rosette for taking part. Okay, I wasn’t so shocked by that one as they were still infants. Next year, I thought, when she is in first class and going to the ‘big field’ for sports day with the older children, THEN we’ll see a little competition! Sports day 2014 took place last Friday. My son is now in junior infants and so he received his ‘taking part’ rosette, before heading off to the ‘big field’ to see the end of Caoimhe’s day. I don’t think she won any races but I don’t know because apparently no-one received a medal/rosette or anything – they all just enjoyed taking part and being in a team! How lovely πŸ™‚


Now I am sure this practise is not particular just to my children’s school, but it does beg the question: why have a sports day at all? I understand that in schools there is an emphasis on teamwork, and I actively encourage that in my children; but surely a little healthy competition is also good for children? Surely encouraging them to do their level best can only be a positive?

As is rewarding them when they achieve their goals whilst also reassuring them when they don’t.Teaching them to deal with success and failure has to be beneficial to them now and in their adult lives never mind to society as a whole. Right?


If a child never learns to compete how are they expected to learn to lose?

If a child never learns to compete how are they expected to learn to win?

If a child never learns to compete then how can we expect them to try anything?

If a child never learns to try; then how will they find out their strengths? Or weaknesses for that matter?


So why are the children not rewarded for winning? I truly can’t believe it is to protect the feelings of those who lose, or at least I hope we haven’t sank to a level of political correctness where winning is deemed hurtful! I for one look forward to next year’s sports day in the hope that 8-year-olds might be encouraged to learn about winning and losing. These are, in my opinion, extremely valuable lessons which are well worth learning about and experiencing in childhood in the first instance. Otherwise, our children may be in for a rude awakening when they enter the fully competitive world of secondary education.


Thanks for reading,


I love receiving feedback, please leave any thoughts or comments below.



21 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. mind the baby
    Jun 20, 2014 @ 11:30:32

    I wholeheartedly agree with you Aisling! Apart from anything else, children are naturally competitive anyway. So while the official sports day might be all about “taking part being the important bit”, you can bet that when they’re playing with their friends in an informal setting that there are winners and losers. I have lots of memories of my sports days too but I do remember losing or sometimes coming in fourth and being really annoyed! But that doesn’t mean we should remove the opportunity for kids to have that feeling. It was important that I learned that i couldn’t win all the time, and important that I learned how to manage how I felt about that.


    • BabySteps
      Jun 20, 2014 @ 12:20:11

      I think what bothers me the most about it is the fact that they need to learn to lose. Winning is great but coming to terms with losing is something we should learn at a young age. My son HATES losing but knows that he will sometimes~ just not at Sport’s Day apparently! πŸ˜‰


  2. Sara
    Jun 20, 2014 @ 11:30:53

    I was only thinking about this the other day, Abigail had hers and came out of school with treats after sports day I asked her did she win anything and she just like “I dunno” I don’t recall seeing any of the kids with medals.. I still have my medals from years ago!


  3. Anonymous
    Jun 20, 2014 @ 11:41:32

    and a huge +1 from me!


  4. thisismotherhoodblog
    Jun 20, 2014 @ 12:43:57

    I can’t believe the year that they got a prize even though the event was cancelled. Was that somehow supposed to make up for the cancelled event? Wow.


  5. Justine
    Jun 21, 2014 @ 13:11:25

    Wholeheartedly agree with this, very well put! I am fed up with hearing “the same kids always win the races” and “some will never do well and it’s not fair on them”. What about the kids in the classroom who always do badly in maths/English/Irish, sure they are put to the test every day too. Our school decided on the “team only” reward approach this year which is great, but there was a distinct lack of excitement at the end of each race, as all that was looked for was what colour was the winner wearing! My son won 2 races and I would have loved him to get a bit of a cheer and a reward for those, while also accepting that he won’t win everything.


    • BabySteps
      Jun 21, 2014 @ 22:45:44

      Thanks for reading and commenting Justine! I know I truly think not teaching children to learn to accept success and failure at a young age is going them a massive disservice!


  6. Anon
    Jun 24, 2014 @ 20:16:31

    God forbid sports day would be JUST FUN –


  7. merrybeau
    Jun 25, 2014 @ 00:16:52

    Dear Aisling,

    I had seen your post earlier in the week, but thought carefully about it before replying. As one of the blogging community and a parent myself I appreciate your blog and its take on motherhood. I note you do invite comment, so I hope you won’t mind.

    As one of the teachers that organized the school’s Sports Day I am disheartened by your post. This is because we have put a lot of time, thought and hard work into the organization of the annual Sports Day.

    Genuinely, I would encourage you to drop by next year and spend some time with us, on the day, getting a feel for what it involves and the fun the children have on the day. Part of its success we believe is the interesting variety of activities we can offer on account of volunteers we get from local sports groups, the parent body and past pupils.

    Another aspect of the day that we feel is working well is the composition of the teams where there are sixth class captains and two children from each class down to first. To see the older children look after the younger ones; and to see the junior students look up to the seniors would really make your heart glad.

    The day is not totally without a competitive element as those who took part in the tug of war, tag rugby or obstacle course could tell you.

    Because this event has been happening over a number of years, we have the organization down to a fine art, but still the planning involved is arduous. I heard a colleague say, in the early stages of planning that she had made forty phone calls one afternoon to contact our volunteers

    I would like to reassure you that there are many opportunities for competition in sports in the school. Off the top of my head, in this past term PE included relay races and orienteering, both of which were competitive.

    Classes from 1st class up trooped up to the field behind the Park and Ride earlier in the month for the hotly contested ‘run offs’ for the North Wicklow Sports. We then arranged that those selected attended the event, where they did us proud.

    The GAA groups have been playing in interschool ‘blitzes’ county wide and two senior teams competed successfully in a golfing event among local schools. The basketball players from third class up were involved in a league; the final of which was last week.

    Later this week a team of teachers will play the annual basketball against sixth class, which is a much anticipated tradition in the school. We are happy that there are lots of opportunities to be competitive in the area of sports in the school.

    I’m sure you will agree that balance is important and so to have one day devoted to ‘taking part’ and working together is more than acceptable under the circumstances. You will have to trust us. We have the best interests of the children at heart.

    So you can see, I hope that there are ample opportunities to experience success and failure. I am discouraged that you might think we were doing our students a ‘massive disservice’,

    With every good wish,
    Mary Beausang


    • BabySteps
      Jun 25, 2014 @ 07:18:04

      Thank you for reading and commenting Mary. I feel dreadful that I may have given an incorrect impression of the school or my appreciation for all that the teachers do above and beyond the call of duty.I am a big supporter of the school and get as involved as I can I also know how much my children enjoyed sports day,and I am very much looking forward to attending one when my youngest is old enough!My comment about the ‘massive disservice’ was not directed at the school but at us as parents by not encouraging our children to get used to winning and losing. I totally trust the teacher’s in the school and know that both my children get to win sometimes. However as a society we seem to be becoming more and more afraid of promoting competition amongst out children. I was using the inclusiveness of sports day as an example of how things are changing and as you can see it is something I feel strongly about. I certainly did not mean to offend yourself or any of the fantastic teachers as I am aware how very hard you work in our children’s interests. Best wishes Aisling


  8. office mum
    Jun 25, 2014 @ 11:18:51

    I had this debate with my friends this week. Our children are in four different schools. The two schools that have medals for winners led to children in tears because they did’t win. The two schools that had no winners (at junior and senior infants level) resulted in kids ecstatic with having had a great day, and no concerns about winning or losing. Everything I’ve read about this says that young children do not benefit from competing at sports. As they get older, yes, healthy competition comes into it. I suspect that there’s also a difference between a sports day where every child participates, versus a hobby/ a sports club where a child is choosing to take part because of a particular interest e.g. GAA, Irish dancing. In the latter case, competition makes sense – the kids (or their parents πŸ˜‰ ) are actively choosing to participate and compete. My kids do gymnastics and if the time comes to enter competitions, and if they’d like to do that, I’d be thrilled for them to do so. But for now, while they’re only five and six, I’m happy that sports day doesn’t have winners. I don’t know that they really need to learn about winning and losing at such a young age. But great post and a great topic – good to have the debate!!


    • BabySteps
      Jun 25, 2014 @ 12:07:33

      Thanks for reading and commenting πŸ™‚ I have been having the same chat with parents at my school and there is pretty much a 50/50 divide. I know that it is lovely for the children to have a fun day but I do not see any harm in encouraging them to do their best. Once children reach school age they are well able to handle a little competition and for various reasons some don’t do any activities outside school so why not let them learn the value of competition as well as the value of team work. My son HATES losing but he is learning that it is ok to lose and I think that is a good thing. Definitely not a topic everyone agrees on though.;-)


      • office mum
        Jun 25, 2014 @ 18:19:13

        I suspect that some of my feelings on this stem from my own lack of athletic ability in school, and due to worrying about my six-year-old who was very self-conscious after coming last in her race last year!

  9. lookingforbluesky
    Jun 25, 2014 @ 11:54:28

    My kids are older and never experienced the kind of sports day where you get something just for taking part. I’m not sure what I feel about it, and partly for that reason, perhaps there is a need for the school to explain to parents the thinking behind a non-competitive day?


    • BabySteps
      Jun 25, 2014 @ 12:12:31

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Maybe call it a fun day instead of sports day, to me sports means competing and good sportsmanship means being a fair player and a good loser.I am using the sports day more as an example of the non competitive attitude we as a society seem to be encouraging. Certainly getting people thinking tough!! πŸ™‚


  10. merrybeau
    Jun 25, 2014 @ 17:50:38

    Hello again Aisling,
    I am very when you say that you trust us and that your comment about a ‘massive disservice’ was a general one. And when your younger child is old enough, you have a treat in store I hope. Parents have been very complimentary about the smooth running of what is a logistical challenge.
    Your post certainly seems to have struck a chord with people. It is good to talk and to reflect on the way our choices influence our children,
    With every good wish


  11. ciwin22
    Jun 26, 2014 @ 12:51:49

    Hi there! While I wholeheartedly agree with you that children need to learn to lose and deal with disappointment-essential life skills, as a teacher who has organised a lot of sports days I have to agree with the view that taking part is what’s important on Sports Day. Over the years we have had competitive sports day and kids opt out and refuse to take part because they know they won’t win and are afraid of being a “loser”, when we took the overly competitive aspect away the vast majority of children were enthusiastic about participating. We also organising several non athletic but creative and active events on the day too to cater to everyone’s needs. I’m sure your school is like ours and throughout the year there are constant competitions and events in all areas plus kids constantly compete on the yard in games and matches etc at lunch time in their day to day play. Sports Day is the big social fun day of the school calendar and by focusing on participation rather than winning makes it a fun day for all. Really enjoy your blog and love how this post has sparked a really great discussion. Thanks! Ciara πŸ˜€ πŸ™‚


    • BabySteps
      Jun 26, 2014 @ 20:44:39

      Thanks for taking the time to read my post Ciara. I do understand the reasoning behind it being a fun day as opposed to sports day but I also think that children should learn to win and lose from an early age so that they are not afraid to lose and that they learn to win graciously . Clearly though from all the discussions there is no right or wrong answers to this one it is really a matter of opinion! Thanks for your lovely comments though! Aisling


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