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The six stages of competitive parenting at school sports day

The minute we get a whiff of competition, we transform into monsters on the playing field
The minute we get a whiff of competition, we transform into monsters on the playing field Credit: Getty Images Contributor

Who among us didn’t feel a small pang of recognition upon hearing Amanda Holden has been banned by her older daughter from attending her school sports day? The television presenter’s crime, she told listeners of the Heart Breakfast Show, was getting too involved and competitive. Which, as anyone who’s attended a child’s school sports day will know, is surprisingly easy to do.

We don’t mean to, of course. We mean to follow through on the utterly disingenuous pep talk we give in the lead-up: “The only thing that matters is you join in and enjoy yourself, sweetie. It’s not important who wins, it’s really not..”

Except, once we’re in the heat of the moment, shouting ourselves hoarse on the sidelines as our darling edges one inch ahead in the sack race, it occurs to us that actually it is important who wins. It is perhaps the most important thing in the world.

We’re not sure what it is about sports day that brings out this not altogether appealing side of ours, but there it is, all the same: the minute we get a whiff of competition, we transform into monsters on the playing field.

Here’s how it works:

1. The build-up

Sports day is just a bit of fun. We know this, and even in the face of a deluge of messages from the school about kit and sun cream and the policy on taking photos, we manage to maintain this position. “It’s the taking part that counts,” is our mantra at this stage (a mantra that is soon to be discarded and forgotten). “So what if your friend Harry can run faster than you? No-one minds who is faster.”

2. The gates open

Don’t they look sweet in their P.E. outfits? These are the moments you treasure as a parent. It’s all such innocent amusement. So why, then, are you not-so-subtly elbowing other parents out the way as you file through the gates, intent on bagging a prime spot by the side of the throwing-beanbags-into-hoops event? Yes, it’s unfortunate that the woman you just pushed past happened to be heavily pregnant, and you didn’t mean to trample on the toes of someone’s grandfather, but you’re certain they were behind you in the queue earlier, and fair’s fair after all.

Banned: Amanda Holden says her older daughter won't let her attend her school sports day Credit: Neil Mockford/GC Images

3. The first event

This one’s no big deal. It’s not as if throwing beanbags into hoops is an Olympic sport, or even a useful life skill. But did no-one else notice that blond kid over there stepping way over the line before throwing his beanbags? Where’s the teacher? Someone ought to let her know what this shameless little cheat is up to. It’s probably going to have to be you.

4. The sprint

This one is a big deal. If Harry beats your son again, you won’t be held responsible for your actions. A bit of loud encouragement from the sidelines may in order. Nothing too shouty, you don’t want to put your child off. “RUN, FOR CHRISSAKE, DON’T WALK! COME ON!” you hear someone yelling. You realise it is you. Your child hasn’t won. The person shouting out expletives is also you.

5. The parents’ egg and spoon race

This is where it really gets dangerous. You’ve secretly been thinking and training for this for weeks, despite making claims to the contrary. You know that if you don’t train for it, Harry’s mum will, and two defeats by that family in one day would be simply humiliating. Even though it’s the taking part that counts, and even though it definitely doesn’t matter who wins.

It’s not your fault she gets a black eye. She wasn’t looking where she was going.

6. The aftermath

You select the best picture of your victory and proudly upload to social media, along with the requisite humblebrag. This one is going to go down in school folklore, you’re sure of it. They’ll probably still be talking about it on the PTA come the summer fete.

As for your child’s performance, well yes, it was admittedly disappointing, let’s be honest. But maybe you could hire some kind of sports coach before next year’s event. Those beanbags won’t learn to throw themselves.