A competitive edge

This morning was Isaac’s first primary school sports day, so there we were standing in the middle of an open field in rapidly rising temperatures risking sunstroke for the privilege of watching our first-born running around with bean bags.

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There’s a scene at the end of The Incredibles where Dash, who is blessed with super speed, is competing in his school sports day and deliberately makes sure he just comes second. Isaac’s a bit like that. He’s quick enough to win races, but it was noticeable his default position was to look across at his fellow competitors and ensure he finished half a yard behind the winner without straining to win himself. I’m not sure why but it happened race after race, so it can’t have been a coincidence.

Watching him compete, it was apparent how true he is to his nature. Being a stickler for the rules, he is more concerned with doing things right than doing them fast, resulting in an ultra-cautious approach to the modern-day equivalent of the egg-and-spoon race, which involved a paddle and a bean bag. (I imagine that, even if they were allowed to use real eggs, they would have to be free-range and the school would have to make a statement about animal cruelty.)

And what considerable advantage Isaac possesses over both his parents in running ability – he has the easy, loping gait of a long-distance runner, whereas I have the nimble, light-footed stride of an overweight hippopotamus – he more than compensates for with a total absence of competitive spirit. In fact, by the third or fourth event I’m pretty sure he was playing to the gallery more than he was actually focussing on racing. I even have photographic evidence to support this theory …

Hey, dad, over here!

As a Properly PC Parent, I was ever so proud of his general attitude and spirit. He did every race with wholehearted enthusiasm and a smile on his face. As Competitive Dad, however, I made several mental notes which I will bear in mind for next year:

1. Several other children merrily false-started during races. Where were the teachers with the recall gun? Next year I’m going to rig up starting blocks which will catch the little cheats red-handed.

2. I’m going to set up a rigorous training routine focussing on developing his reaction time, basic speed, strength and endurance. I’ll use the training montage from Rocky to inspire him. We’ll start tomorrow with some shuttle runs and light weights and take it from there.

3. We’ll have less jollity with his classmates. When he lines up at the start, he will know they are his enemies, not his friends, and they are there only to demonstrate his superiority when he beats them. I have photos of them all. We’ll be using them as dartboards for the next 12 months.

4. I noticed he slipped slightly or took an unnecessarily wide berth on a couple of turns. He’ll be kitted out with proper running shoes with cleats next year, not cheap trainers.

5. I’m going to talk to some of my cycling contacts about getting him a custom skin-suit made up to reduce the aerodynamic drag of running in a flappy t-shirt and shorts. That should be worth a couple of tenths of a second in the egg-and-spoon race.

6. I’m going to demand mandatory dope testing next year, as I’m convinced some of those kids had been pumped full of sugar beforehand by parents desperately seeking that extra edge.

7. When he does win, he’s going to need a suitably cool celebration. We’ll work on that.

In short, next year we will do whatever it takes to make him WIN!

Equally, I could just lighten up and enjoy my day in the sun.

On a vaguely serious note, I would like Isaac to grow up with some competitive fire in his belly. Both Heather and I are competitive people, and it hasn’t done us any harm. Other than the fact we can’t play Scrabble against each other any more for fear of reprisals and trade sanctions by the loser. Okay, maybe we’re not a great example on that front. Do as we say and not as we do, kiddo.

A healthy competitive mentality will hopefully drive him to achieve as much as he can (and wants to) in life, to not settle for merely good when better is within his grasp and to also learn that losing is okay (and should be handled with good grace) as long as you’ve at least tried. Like it or not, life is a competition for most of us: exam results, job interviews, it never really ends. If Isaac develops a mindset which motivates him to get the most out of his time at school, that would be a perfect start. And if he wins a few more races at next year’s sports day, that’d be grand too.

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