Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Claudia Winkleman: Why flopping at Sports Day can make you a loser

You won't want to wear anything that chafes. That's all I'm saying," Lucy explained last Sunday.

She wasn't talking about sex — and she wasn't talking about running the marathon. Actually, if she ever even suggests we consider running the marathon, I will know that she no longer knows me. I will have to pretend I have moved to another continent so she doesn't call to suggest we go hiking (hello?), lip-gloss buying (people who wear the shiny stuff actually scare me — watch them closely, these girls don't eat or talk or wear their hair down) or snowboarding (I mean, really — I'm Jewish, for God's sake).

"Chafes?" I asked, as my husband entered the room and said something along the lines of: "Guacamole. Nice. Want. Some. Kid. Likes. It." And Lucy said: "Sports Day, you fools. Listen, don't believe the hype. Yes, they'll tell you it's good for children to lose and that it's important they aren't always first and that they need to know life isn't only about winning and the rest. They'll say kids who can accept failure will be less let down in the future. But you know what? That's all tosh.

"What they haven't told you is that grown-ups don't like losing. Those mums and dads will be in the gym. Right now, as you guys are buttering your rolls, they will be pushing weights and they'll have set countdown clocks to Sports Day. Seriously, they're shouting 'we're winners' and running up imaginary hills. Imagine 40 Kate Bushes — just running up that hill. They're cloudbusting, they're doing whatever they can to win. They'll be Sports Day Fit — there's no Pimm's for them till 25 June."

Green chunky cold dip was now sliding down my husband's chin and his mouth was agape.

"Um. It's just a small school. And you know, he's five ... " I attempted to cut in. "Fact is, you only get one shot. And then it stays with you for the rest of the year. Not to mention your kids. Dad came last at the egg-and-spoon. Duh. Moron. I don't care if your child can spell and loves Roald Dahl and wants to sing'The Bells of St Clements at the top of his lungs as he walks along the street. If you're in the last five or six on Sports Day then you're turning him into a loser. 'Uh, I wasn't really focused in the sack event' turns into 10 years on a therapist's couch with the unanswered question hanging in the air, 'Why didn't she get into the zone? For me? Why was that so tough? Why was she looking at what the other mothers brought for the picnic?'"

There's more."And another thing. Don't get all 'the-fun-is-in-the-taking-part'. You know what that is?"

"Um. True?"

"Bull. That's what that is. Bull."

"I see."

"Life isn't a dress rehearsal, guys. It's your first Sports Day, so you needed to know. Someone had to tell you the facts of life." And with that she was off her stool and pretending to be normal again. She looked the same, all pretty and smiley and we ate pizza and did some chatting. But something had happened and the world had changed.

There it was — out in the open. Sports Day was not fun. I had planned on a bag of apples and some cheese sandwiches. I was going to wear any old thing and bring the baby. My husband was taking three hours out of work, he'd charged the camera and he was coming in a suit. Now the "family races" that looked so innocent on the brightly coloured "What To Know About Sports Day!" booklet seemed ominous.

As well as the egg-and-spoon and the sack race and the usual 100m dash, there was also a sibling race mentioned. Now, his sister is two and she's, uh, I don't know how to put this, a bit slow. She will run for a strawberry ice cream and she'll run for a baby rabbit (dabbit), but otherwise she wants to be on someone's shoulders or window-shopping from a Maclaren.

There was silence on the way home. "Well, we're going to have to get her up to scratch," said my husband.

"She's two," I said.

"No excuse, babe. You heard Luce. We're not going to let him down."

So now my husband is at the gym every day. He and the five-year-old have created Sports Day chants, and the toddler is having to get from the front door to the top floor in less than 30 seconds to earn her breakfast.

"Are you seriously not going to compete with the will to win?" he asked last night, as he bench-pressed off the side of the bed. He was wearing a sweatband and a T-shirt that he's had made at Snappy Snaps. It reads: "Eat Dust Form One Dads", and then, on the back: "The Cup is Mine."

I didn't know what to say. I didn't know how to explain that I would do anything for my five-year-old. If that meant going to the gym nine hours a day, I would do it. If I thought I had any physical attributes that meant I wouldn't come in last, I'd do it (see first paragraph). But I'm just not sporty; I have freakishly short legs and teeny tiny lungs. "I won't let him down," I said as he drank a raw egg and hummed the Rocky theme tune.

Sports Day is tomorrow. Now, I'm not fit, but I am a good cheat. Who says I can't stick the egg to the spoon? The Blu-Tack's in my pocket. See you at the start line.

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