Learning to compete is learning about life

Egg and Spoon Race 1920’s style

There’s a problem.  There’s not a male Scottish athlete in Team GB nor is there a male Scottish footballer.  It seems that this is something of a surprise for some.  It’s not that great a surprise if you watch international football, Scotland are not competitive in that.  The players coming through from grass roots are barely good enough for league football, never mind playing for their national team, or, further on from that, a Team GB.

What has happened? In football you could blame numerous things.  You could say that clubs prefer to buy in players rather than train them up from being juniors to seniors.  You could say youngsters aren’t interested.  You could say a lot of things and I’ve been Tweeted a few while writing this.

There is a problem regarding sport in school.  Even when I was in school things were going wrong.  In Primary school PE seemed to consist of a lot of shimmying up and down ropes, which is fine if you’re considering a job in the SAS or as an abseiling coach, if not then it was slightly pointless, or running along upturned benches.  There also seemed to be a lot of throwing bean bags around as well.  It never made sense to me.  What did make sense was sports day.  It was the day we competed.

Our school, like many other, divided us into “houses”.  Mines was, naturally, the best and on sports day we set out to prove that.  In retrospect our sports say was like a mini-Olympics.  We were selected for the sports or events that we’d be best at.  So I might be better at the relay while someone else might have better balance than me and get the egg and spoon from one end of the course to the other without incident.  There was short games of football, the 100 metres, the egg and spoon, the sack race, the obstacle race, some kind of target event – oh there was lots.  There were gold, silver and bronze placings and at the end of the day you went home knackered.  You might have a medal, you might not and it bloody annoyed you if you didn’t. It made you work harder.

In the last week of school before the summer holidays it was announced in assembly which “house” had done best and won overall.

During Primary school I also represented my school in netball and basketball.  I tried for the teams, got in and competed.  We got beat a few times.  It hurt.  We got run ragged at the next training session. We wanted more.  We just wanted to win.  It didn’t always happen but that, dear reader, is life.

You don’t always win every football match (and Hibs supporters, like myself, are fully aware of that fact), you don’t always get every job you apply for, you don’t get given things.  You have to compete for them, earn them and prove why that win should be yours, why you’re the right person for the job.

Competition isn’t just about sports though.  At Primary we used to have spelling competitions.  I was pretty good at that.  I hated if anyone else got 100% and I got 99%.  So what did I do? Run and cry? No, I went away, studied my words and aced it the next time.

Not everyone can be good at everything.  I failed miserably at anything to do with times tables.  We used to have competitions based on that too (winners of all these competitions got extra time on the BBC computer or something similar) and if you were looking at a person to be in the 10% area, I was your wee girl.  Hated maths, no matter how much I tried, I failed.  Yet it didn’t particularly bother me because words were my thing and I excelled at that.

That’s the thing.  Chances are, if you’re rubbish at one thing you are most likely to be excellent at something else and that’s good.  What is frustrating is to excel at something but for that not to be recognised because a system says that no-one should be considered a winner or a loser.  What happens then? There’s no point in competing.  So years down the line, at the 2012 London Olympics Scotland finds itself with no male footballers in the GB squad and no male athletes.  The decline of Scotland’s sporting stars is finally being highlighted and that is a good thing.

Somewhere along the line we thought it was better that children stopped competing in school, that the taking part is what mattered.  Well, that is not necessarily the case.

There’s also now a generation of people who basically expect that they should be given something simply because they want it.  In school they turned up at sports, they got a medal for that, so now they expect that a job should be their’s because they finished school.  Part of taking part in competition in schools prepares children for later life.  If you’ve learned how it is to be beaten in a sport or other competition, and learned to cope with that it prepares you for being turned down for a job.  It prepares you for life in general.