Sports day :: Why it should be optional.

Sports day. To steal Jon Snow’s phrase – It is coming. Unless you’ve already had it in which case you may well have had some tears, temper tantrums and overall stress. You may have had some serious excitement too, it’s not all doom and gloom!

I despised sports day at school. Hated it with such passion that I would use any excuse not to go. I remember one year, back when it was acceptable to bully children at school, the teachers told our year group that any form (class group) that didn’t have full attendance would be disqualified, so any child that won anything would lose it because of their peers that didn’t turn up. As you can imagine that was a particularly awful week for me, especially as I didn’t turn up. I wouldn’t have been able to do much anyway, I had spent so long being bullied for being “fat” that I couldn’t play sports in front of anyone in the end. I have been with my husband ten years this year and I have only just started running with him, trusting him not to ridicule me for “jiggling” everywhere. The darkest times during all of this bullying centred around sports day, and caused so much trauma.

To me, sports day is outdated and unnecessary. It should be optional, and is definitely not something that I think children should be taken out of class to practice for. You can run the three legged race? Awesome, but you missed that part of the curriculum because of it? No thanks. Now, I’m not an idiot, I realise that for Sports day is a world of fun for a tonne of kids. Adam was one of them and the boys seem to really relish the chance show off and enjoy a bit of sport! Physical activity is important, and I do think that sports day gives children the chance to really try out sports that they maybe wouldn’t have known about otherwise. Reuben loves running, he hates cricket and football at the moment, much to Daddy’s heart break, but he loves running. He loves to race, like a lot of young boys, so for him, there is an excitement in Sports day.

But what if he, like me, hated it?

In a modern day where we know how unacceptable it is for children to be made to feel victimised and bullied, I really don’t think that there should be such pressure around sports day. It SHOULD be optional.

I know that might come over as whishy-washy and people may say “well why not make maths optional” or any other subject you “just don’t like”, but I think this is different. Physical Education is not optional, it is mandatory and it is vitally important to keep our children active and get them out there trying new sports that they may well love. Sports day is not like that. Sports day is a whole afternoon, or in some cases day, of sport. Of showing off your skills or lack there of to parents, friends, strangers. It’s intimidating, and it’s too much for some kids. While it is an opportunity to teach our children about kindness, humility and the that it’s ok to lose sometimes, I would challenge anyone to tell me they haven’t seen at least one child being laughed at at Sports Day. Trust me, that will stick with them for life.

I love watching my son’s sports day, he is so pleased with the opportunity to run, jump and try out new things, but I would be a liar if a small part of me didn’t cringe inside every time I hear the words “Sports day”, it holds so many bad memories for me. If there comes a time that any of the children feel that Sports day isn’t for them, then I won’t make them participate.

What are your memories of Sports day?

H x


  1. Avatar May 9, 2017 / 11:58 am

    The Einestein’s quote was so good “you can’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree” Every one have his own favorite game or habit. So, instead of forcing kids we should identify their potentiality and let them grow on their way…it’s can be better.

    Thanks for your post!

  2. Avatar October 17, 2016 / 1:31 pm

    I totally agree with you Harriet. sports day should be optional. 😎

  3. Avatar July 5, 2016 / 9:52 pm

    I totally see what you’re saying here, and I agree. No child should be forced to play sports if they aren’t interested in them. Nice job with this post. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this!

    • Harriet July 5, 2016 / 9:08 am

      Thanks lovely, I’m pleased you enjoyed it!

  4. Avatar July 4, 2016 / 11:09 pm

    My little ones love being part of sports day and want to practice each year as it gets closer to the day.

  5. Avatar July 4, 2016 / 7:42 pm

    I absolutely agree with you 100%.
    I hated Sports Day so much throughout all my school year, and dreaded it more than anything else.
    Sometimes I managed to get away without taking part, but when I was forced, I felt so scared & worried.
    It used to make me cry so much.
    I definetly don’t think it should be forced upon anyone!

    • Harriet July 5, 2016 / 9:20 am

      Me too! I just don’t think it should be a “forced thing” though I can see how that would cause complications for the school. x

  6. Avatar July 3, 2016 / 10:17 pm

    I hated sports day too although ironically I was quite athletic, I used to try and blend into the background because I was bullied a lot and people laughed at the way I ran so I hated it. I agree it should be optional x

    • Harriet July 5, 2016 / 9:23 am

      Me too, the bullying over the event is the *worst*!

  7. Avatar July 2, 2016 / 9:51 pm

    I hated Sports Day as a kid but my little sister has always loved it x

  8. Avatar July 2, 2016 / 9:26 pm

    I so agree that sports day should be optional. PE should be mandatory yes, because we need to be taught to be healthy and fit, but when you start to throw competitions in there, that’s when things can start to get negative. I remember the feelings when I both won and when I sometimes came last. People do bully you for that and the fact that sports day was always mandatory is awful. x

    • Harriet July 5, 2016 / 9:39 am

      Yes! That is how I feel, PE totally, but sports DAY? Nope.

  9. Avatar July 2, 2016 / 8:32 pm

    I used to hate sports day as a child – it was my worst nightmare as while I loved swimming and could out swim many I wasn’t a runner and I would always come in plodding at the back as it just wasn’t me.

    • Harriet July 5, 2016 / 9:39 am

      Me too! Running was not my thing!

  10. Avatar July 2, 2016 / 10:19 am

    My daughter enjoys sports day but I find she gets really stressed out with it if she doesn’t come in a good place in whatever she is entered into. There is then tears and sadness all day because she doesn’t think she’s good enough. It’s the parents at her school that are worse than the kids, the things they chant out to their kids really upsets the others and I’ve seen them be told off by the teachers. One was even asked to leave by the head as he was being so rude and upsetting the other kids xx

    • Harriet July 5, 2016 / 9:40 am

      Really?! It’s so sad that this doesn’t surprise me!

  11. Avatar July 2, 2016 / 1:26 am

    I always hated sports day but I think it’s the sort of thing I would have been too shy to participate in if I had not been forced, which would have been a shame. I do agree that it causes unnecessary stress and pressure though.

    • Harriet July 5, 2016 / 9:41 am

      Thanks Laura, I just think the option would help x

  12. Avatar July 1, 2016 / 11:33 pm

    I distinctly remember a sports day back in the day; we all had to take part at least in one event and I chose the 1200m race (what on earth was I thinking?!). I finished last.

    With my lungs still burning, I headed over to my friends, and one of the boys in my class piped up with “finished last, how pathetic”.

    My response? “At least I took part”.

    I think it’s important that kids learn that you can’t win at everything, but that it’s important to at least try. You might hate the sport but in life you have to do things that you hate over and over again. To me, it wasn’t just about sports, it was about everything else…

    • Harriet July 5, 2016 / 9:42 am

      And I can agree with that to an extent; but when you have a child who (like myself) despises sport but it highly academic – why are they being forced to participate in something that really only leads to ridicule? I don’t see kids getting ridiculed in the classroom for not enjoying the lesson, but sports day does force children who don’t want to do it into a very unpleasant and stressful situation.

      • Avatar
        June 28, 2021 / 12:00 pm

        Literally just researching how I can manage and help my son who is very academic but doesn’t seem to have a sporty bone in his body. As they are now spending each PE class practicing for races and play time has become a bit of a practice session too. The laughing at him is now getting to him. It makes me so sad, is it ok to pull him out of it ? From your words it seems it is ….phew

  13. Avatar July 1, 2016 / 9:45 pm

    Hmmm that’s tough… I was pretty much exactly like you. I hated sports day. It probably actually made me mentally ill on the build up each year. I would have loved for it to be optional! I, like you though, had bullying sports teachers.

    Now that I have been a teacher for nearly thirteen years (eek) I do see it from a slightly different perspective. Yes, it can be tough, but I think rather than making it entirely optional it should just be dealt with sensitively and made so that it can be more flexible to fit in with all children’s needs.

    There are definitely benefits for all children doing*something* for such an event, and more than just ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ type stuff (as that is often not bloody true!) Building a sense of community, and fostering the idea that people have all different abilities and capabilies, and seeing how wonderful it is when students of all levels of sportiness really support each other and enjoy the thrill of the day… I think that can happen if you have the right ethos when organising one! 🙂

    • Harriet July 5, 2016 / 9:44 am

      I think you’re right there – sadly I don’t think it is often that it is done with the right ethos, we have a very “get on with it” attitude in this country and I hate that when applied to kiddos!

  14. Avatar July 1, 2016 / 9:03 pm

    I always enjoyed sports day when I was a kid. I don’t remember there being much pressure around it and it seemed like a fun day for everyone so I’ve never really thought about it like this. I suppose it will be different depending on schools and general locations but I do agree with what you’re saying! There shouldn’t be any pressure surrounding it, instead it should just be a fun change from the usual school day! Bouncy castle are a great start!

    • Harriet July 5, 2016 / 9:44 am

      Did you say bouncy castle? Now that sounds like my kind of sports day!

  15. Avatar July 1, 2016 / 8:46 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. I hated sports day and cried when ever it happened, so many on lookers a day people cheering for theory kids, grand kids, brothers, sisters etc… but then there was me, I only had one person cheering for me and it killed me because I was bullied and made fun of for it. It should be optional, it’s not a mandatory class, it’s an event.

    Jordanne ||

    • Harriet July 5, 2016 / 9:46 am

      Right there with you on the crying! ugh!

  16. Avatar July 1, 2016 / 8:17 pm

    I always loved Sports Day, it gave me a chance to take part in events that we didn’t always do in PE and show what I could do and give my parents the chance to see it rather than hear about it. What I hated though was in my class there was only a few of us who were good at Sports Day and they expected us to do everything as there was a yearly form tournament that we usually won. There was a lot of pressure and they always tried to force me to do high jump which I venomously hated but loved long jump and I had a blazing row with one of the teachers over it. I think it’s great to give kids the chance to show their talents and exercise is always important but I definitely think teachers need to take into account that everyone has different levels of sports and athletics or irrelevant sports like three legged races might make kids feel worse about themselves. I can understand why you think it should be optional and I’m so sorry to hear that you had to deal with that through school, but I’m really happy for you that you have the confidence to run with your husband

    • Harriet July 5, 2016 / 9:48 am

      I agree with giving kids who want to do it the chance to showcase their skills, but I struggle to accept kids who don’t want to being forced to do something on show and in front of so many strangers in a competitive manner. To me it is a bit like asking children who aren’t academic to perform in a spelling competition or maths competition – it’s not really fair.

  17. Avatar July 1, 2016 / 1:16 pm

    I have to admit I was never the biggest fan of sports day but I’ve never been overly sporty, however I did love the whole team effort part of it. I’m not sure it should be optional because surely this get kids start thinking well if I can opt out of that then surely I can opt out of other things they don’t like and as an adult we’ve come to learn there are things we just have to do whether we like them or not. It’s a tricky one isn’t it.

    • Harriet July 5, 2016 / 9:50 am

      Hmm I can see what you mean, but essentially you DO opt out of doing something you don’t like in a competitive manner on display. Unless you do marathons when you hate them etc? Do you know what I mean. As adults we have to do stuff we hate, but rarely in a competitive and on show forum.

  18. Avatar July 1, 2016 / 12:18 pm

    Hmm…I don’t think I agree. I WANT to agree, because I too hated sports day as a child, but I don’t. I think the responsibility needs to lie with the school to tone down the competive nature of sports day and agree that sometimes being watched and cheered on can be intimidating for children, but for some kids it’s also their only opportunity of the year to really shine. As for spending academic time practising for sports day, as you say, we’re also teaching them about team work, patience, how to lose (and win) with grace as well as the sporting skills. I think these are life skills that are just as important as maths and literacy. And finally, apart from anything else, sports day takes a lot of planing and organisation from staff.On a practical level, what would be the plan for the children who choose not to take part? Who would look after them and plan activities of a similar education or physical benefit for them?

    • Harriet July 5, 2016 / 9:55 am

      I can totally see what you mean Hannah, and I agree with aspects of what you’re saying – it would certainly raise issues of what to do with the kids that don’t *want* to participate.
      My issue is, as adults, we wouldn’t put ourselves into a competitive position that is openly displayed to the general public (think marathon) unless we wanted to. No one could make us. We might have a competitive work environment, but we wouldn’t be forced to perform an act we didn’t want to without being safe from ridicule – no one is going to be allowed to heckle you at the from of the office when you give that presentation that makes you nervous, and if they did and were allowed to, there are complaints procedures to assure you don’t feel locked in that cycle.
      I guess its a bit like putting a child that isn’t academic into a spelling contest in front of all the other kids and children, and saying – go for it, you have no choice. You don’t. If they are struggling with spelling, tough they still have to do it, but not on stage to be open to ridicule and hurt. Thanks for your comment lovely, it’s always good to have different thoughts and ideas!

  19. Avatar June 30, 2016 / 7:33 pm

    I did sports day when I young and after I moved to America I can’t remember much of it. Wasn’t much of a sports person at the age and still am not. Think it would be good to have the choice to take part or not.

  20. I don’t mind sports day although I was luck that I’ve always gone to great schools that have given options when it comes to the day itself. You never had to compete in everything, so if you didn’t like running, javelin was an option etc, etc. MY sons loves sports day now though and I hate it as they always do a parents race so that’s the point where I hide ha!

    • Harriet July 5, 2016 / 9:56 am

      That sounds so good Michaela x

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