If there is one event guaranteed to bring out the competitive streak in parents, it is a school/nursery sports day. It was Isaac’s yesterday.
In truth, the prospect fills me with the same level of dread as a visit to the dental hygienist: once a year, you are put in an intensely uncomfortable position in which the odds of humiliation are high and there is nothing you can do but grin and bear it.
It’s not watching Zac compete that is the problem. He actually did well this year; certainly better than last year, when he ignored the start, then set off in the wrong direction before finally being cajoled into heading vaguely in the direction of the finish so he could receive his medal for, er, being there. This time round, although he is still not the fastest and is a tad ungainly, he was pretty competent and – most importantly – seemed to enjoy the experience. I’m very proud of him.
There was one race in which the children had to run halfway, pick up a teddy bear – no, I don’t know why – then continue to the finish. Then an obstacle course involving running around a cone and throwing a ball. (Zac, for once, chose to kick rather than throw the ball. I know not why.) And finally, a straight parent-and-child running race, where some parents chose to interpret the strict ‘run at your child’s pace’ rule as ‘run as fast as you can dragging your child behind you like a rag-doll’. (You know who you are.)
And then, of course, there are the parents’ races themselves, where without the presence of children to provide a modicum of decency and common sense, it’s every man (or woman) for himself/herself. These are often brutal affairs, where individuals will go to extraordinary lengths to win a bottle of inexpensive supermarket wine.
Which brings me to my main point. As far as sports days go, I can see that there are three basic Dad typologies. (And, as it happens, Mums often seem to be even more extreme.) These are:
- Competitive Dad: Win at all costs, even if it means bending, breaking or just plain ignoring the rules. Muscle pulls and grass stains are regarded as acceptable levels of collateral damage, as are any ‘accidental’ tackling-from-behind incidents which fall short of a straight red card and on-the-spot fisticuffs.
- Can’t-Be-Bothered Dad: Often a reluctant participant, CBB Dad will take part to avoid disappointing their child (or to keep the peace with their other half), but will put in the minimum amount of effort necessary to complete the race.
- Competitive Dad Masquerading as Can’t-Be-Bothered Dad: Carefully projects the image of being a CBB Dad, but cannot help himself once the race starts – if the opportunity to win presents itself, he will be in there with his elbows.
I am very much a type-three individual. I have always hated to lose – it’s often well disguised under a practised veneer of quiet can’t-be-arsedness, but just ask Heather about what happens when I lose to her at Scrabble. It’s been the same ever since I started doing sports as a child. I am laid-back until the point that I step across the white line, at which point the competitive intensity ramps up to 11.
The dads’ race yesterday – a forward/backward-facing three-legged affair – was a good example of this. Having jokily agreed with my randomly assigned third leg that we would deliberately ensure we would finish outside the top two in our heat so we wouldn’t have a second opportunity to humiliate ourselves in the final, we nevertheless set off at top speed. A bit too fast, as it happens, as my partner took a dive barely five metres from the finish, with us narrowly in the lead – as the photo below demonstrates.
Obviously, had we stayed upright, we would have won our heat, and no doubt we would have won the final too without breaking too much of a sweat. Not that either of us were that bothered, of course. But we were winning. I’m just saying.
I think I’m going to start training for next year now. Not that I’m being competitive or anything, of course.