The story run on TV3’s The Project on Monday evening has sparked debate that continued through breakfast TV and radio this week. The question posed was ‘is it time to scrap cross country in schools?’ Research conducted by Sport New Zealand indicated that 73% of children like cross country at age six, but this goes down to 52% by age 13. In comparison, 94% liked PE and 92% liked club or weekend sports.
Does the fact that 27% of six-year-olds don’t enjoy cross country mean that we should be talking about changing or removing it from the sports curriculum? As Jesse Mulligan quite rightly pointed out, it’s likely that a similar number of children would say they don’t like maths, and we’re not talking about dropping that from the curriculum!
The declining activity and fitness levels of children is bound to be a factor. But the overriding issue appears to be that we don’t like someone having to come last. One of the arguments given by Karen Laurie, Sport New Zealand’s Young People Consultant, was that for those kids at the back of the race, it can be pretty demoralising.
Why is it that we want to shield our children from competition and the highs and lows of winning and losing? Doesn’t competition build resilience in our children? Isn’t facing tough challenges something we think can be beneficial?
At Hereworth, one of the characteristics we strive to bring out in our students is being actively involved. Another is confidence, of which resilience is a huge part.
Hereworth expects, challenges and encourages every boy to participate fully in all areas of school life – whether that be writing, maths, music, languages, food technology or any one of our multiple curriculum areas. We also hold the same expectation when it comes to the traditional annual sporting events in our calendar; athletic sports, swimming sports, and Sandy Lane, our cross country event, that has been run since the early 1900s.
Yes, for some, cross-country may not be their favourite day of the school year, but for others it is their time to shine. We have to look deeper than winners and losers. The Sandy Lane race is about facing up to challenges, participating in an event with a long history, and each boy meeting his own goals for the race.
We know our boys well, as all schools know their students. We know that the boy who may come last in cross-country, won the speech competition last week, has been producing some incredible artwork this term or came top in the mid-year maths exam. Because he is celebrated for those other successes, it doesn’t rock his confidence to come last in cross-country. Instead, he feels proud to have finished the race. He has been encouraged the whole way round the course by his peers, parents and staff who all line the course, and his mates give him a huge pat on the back when he crosses the finish line because they know that, for him, this was a massive challenge. They will expect, and get, the same support from him when they face their own challenges throughout the school year.
If we stop challenging students with a cross-country race because we don’t like picking winners (and therefore creating losers) will we also stop finding winners in other areas of school life? Should we not pick a soloist for the choir performance because it might make the other boys feel less valued? Should we drop the spelling bee and speech competitions too? Absolutely not. Competition is healthy and encourages our boys to strive to be the best that they can be in all areas of school life, and gives them the chance to shine in their area of strength.