This is a really thought provoking short video from the writer, Daniel Pink. Somewhat understandably, when you look at the comments on youtube, he's taken a lot of criticism for the views expressed. However, I believe that there's a great deal of truth in what he says.
When I was in school it was very rare for parents to show up on the sidelines of the sports pitch. During that time, our entire focus was on the pitch, on the team and our role within it. That was more than enough to think about. I know that one of my worst ever sports experiences was when my grandparents came to a rugby match when I was 11. Apart from anything else, I could tell afterwards that my grandfather wasn't impressed by what he'd seen and that really undermined my confidence and hurt a great deal.
On other occasions, I remember how important it was to be able to give my interpretation of a game, a match or an athletics race - having had the chance to fully assimilate it, think about it and rationalise it in my mind.
Attending a boarding school from age 11 to 16, even athletics sports day wasn't attended by parents. To me, it was a vitally important day and the focus of much attention in the weeks beforehand. I set my own goals and targets for the day, I trained, I listened to my coach and at no point did I have to worry about who would be watching. I recall on one occasion that one of my first races of the day (when 15) was the 100 metres hurdles. I had trained hard and was very focused when I got to the start line. The gun went, my start was good. By the fourth hurdle i was competing at the front of the race. Putting my all in, I stretched too much for the next hurdle instead of putting in an extra step. I just failed to clear the hurdle, started to topple and went down heavily. I scraped a lot of skin off a knee and one arm. I eventually got to my feet and jogged to the end to complete the race. I had completely failed in my first goal for the day. Looking back, I think if that had happened in front of family, it would have negatively affected everything else I was to do that day.
However, here, I was on my own. I was in some physical pain and the consolation of my competitors wasn't doing too much. I walked off alone and sat behind the pavilion alone for about 15 minutes. My internal dialogue eventually brought me around to the fact that I'd really done nothing wrong, but tried a bit too hard. This enabled me to focus on the other events that day. The result, by the time i emerged from behind the pavilion I was even more focused and determined. I went on to set a personal best in the discus throw and then a new personal best, coming second in the 1500 metres (beaten by one of my best friends who was a very highly regarded schoolboy athlete).
Interestingly, no trophies or certificates were given out on the day. The entire focus was on the competitions, the races and the performances.
The challenges that afternoon were mine. The eventual achievements were also mine and I had the clarity of understanding how I'd been able to turn failure in to success. I'm glad my parents weren't there that day.
Today, there are many clues of what's gone wrong in school sports. Sports Day is often referred to by educators and school staff as a 'show', display or 'event'. The focus becomes unhealthily on who wins, glory - as though somehow competing, striving for one's best etc. don't carry enough excitement. There's another clue in that most schools don't keep accurate records of the times and distances achieved (all that matters that day is relative performance against others on the track). This prevents a student from competing against self over time and also denies them the ability to understand what has been achieved in their school, at their age group in past years.
There's so much we can do to improve the sports and physical exercise experiences of children in schools. One of the most important things we've got to do is bring a real separation between what's going on and what children understand from professional sport in the media.