This past week my 10-year-old daughter was meant to run the school cross-country race. And I let her skip it and stay home instead.
After five years of placing last or next-to-last at school sporting events, she’s well practised in the humiliation of losing. In a sports-mad culture, what’s a mother to do about that?
Before I go on, the sincerest thanks to singer Ben Folds for the most excellent song about facing your fears, called 'Do it Anyway'. It has become a mantra around here for the last couple of weeks leading up to the cross-country, as my daughter’s dread and anxiety began to mount.
I like that advice, 'Do it Anyway' - it’s a great aphorism for pushing through challenges, especially as this run was a mental game for my kid. But a complete breakdown at bedtime the night before caused me to do something I haven’t done before: I let her opt out of participating.
Side note... Here are the things parents never say during school holidays. Post continues below.
In a deluge of tears and with a stomach migraine, my little girl finally blurted out that she couldn’t stand another humiliation in front of all the other children. This time she couldn’t 'do it anyway'.
At 10, she’s cognisant of what happens off the field and my divine, funny, sensitive girl now feels like a loser, despite my best efforts.
"Everyone else is winning ribbons and I’ll get the dreaded participation ribbon which is almost as bad as coming last, and all the cool kids are good at sports and I’m nobody if I lose," she tells me.
In the mind of a 10-year-old, why would you willingly put yourself through something that is not fun, makes you feel like a loser (her words) in front of the whole school and only serves to draw a deeper chasm between yourself and the elite 'Sporty Spices'?
No matter how many times we say "it’s participation that counts," the culture is about competition. Winning counts, a lot. Yes, participation is good but winning is celebrated - more so than in any other endeavour at school. Winning at sport is the stuff that brings the glory.
I really couldn’t give a flying fig that my daughter is not a sporty girl or if she loses, although I do want her to stay active, have fun, feel good about herself, and find a physical activity she enjoys. It’d be nice if she could do this in a group and make healthy social connections with others. Those are my personal sporting goals for her. But when a kid hits the age of about 10, all these wonderful objectives typically become the secondary focus in organised sport... way secondary, like, back-in-the-carpark secondary.