15 May 2009

jesus & the track meet

Can you believe I've gone through 18 and a half years of motherhood without ever attending a child's sporting event?  Lest you think I'm a neglectful mother, you should realize that it's not because I forgot to go, but because my children never participated.

I settled in early at the Hershey Track Meet that happens at Lula's school every year to watch her run the first event, the 1600.  It's a beautiful day, the bleachers were still empty, and YMCA was blasting on the speakers.  This is fun,  I thought.  Maybe I've been too harsh on competitive sports, I thought.  But then the sick feeling came and settled into my belly.  I find it unbearably painful to watch children come in last place.  Maybe, in fact surely, this is a reflection on my own over-sensitivity and subsequent trauma as a child, but if even one child feels as sick and miserable as I did at events such as these (and they were way more cut-throat in my sports-crazed hometown) it's not worth it.  Am I happy that Lula had fun running and preparing for the meet?  Yes.  Do I think that the motivation of "winning" is a worthy one? Absolutely not.  I've been guilty in my own teaching practice of occasionally resorting to competition as a motivator, but I've always chickened out at the last minute and awarded everyone.  I noticed that it was a cheap trick that damaged the winners and losers alike, with no positive long-term outcomes.  I've carefully weeded out as much comparison and rivalry as I could from my mothering and pedagogical approaches.

So I sat through the meet and took deep breaths, feeling o-so-alienated--was anyone else feeling the same way?  I thought about Jesus.  I thought about Quakers.  I thought about my friend's daughter's way more progressive school on the Lower East side of Manhattan.  Do they have formal competition at her school?  I thought about the time Lula "borrowed" a ribbon for her Arbor Day poster in second grade, and I got fresh anger about the impending end-of-year ceremony where they always hand out medals to students who score above the 90th percentile on state testing.  Isn't that illegal under FERPA (the student privacy protection laws)?  

Am I too angry and sensitive?  Please tell me, because right now, in the context of old-school values and education, I feel like a freak, and like I have no one to talk to about this because I've used up all of my credibility in this community by being a constant nay-sayer.

Jesus would support me, wouldn't he?

When Ingrid was little, and to this day, she always refused to be a part of any competition, explicit or implicit.  When she got older, she happily became a volunteer cheerleader for her peers and siblings, but has never herself participated.  

I think she has it right.

O Friends School of Provo, where are you?  My Great Aunt Helen called herself a Feminist Quaker Mormon.  I think she had it right, too.  

I wish she were still here to consult with.

I'm breathing.





Please advise.


eliza.e.campbell said...

Going to a public high school endowed me with multiple opportunities to be on big loud sports teams. I played competitively, and was often forced to cheer competitively. My strategy: avoid sports. Make fun of those who appear to be taking them seriously. And cheer for the losers.

sarah said...

Could we make our own Friends school here? I might be convinced to stop homeschooling if there were a place truly "friendly" to ALL kids.

Marni C. said...

Um, how about the obvious. Couldn't the Hershey Track Meet (isn't that what you said it's called) be about chocolate?

Seriously, that's why I love my school. Inclusiveness. We do have our competitive teams, but honestly, in sport after sport last year and this, the kids have won high honors in sportsmanship. But then again, I was a timer at a track meet and I nearly passed out myself just holding the stop watch. No fun. Yoga.

Clementine said...

It teaches humility though, being a good loser.

Like, for instance, without the humility I gained from the Hershey track meet I might not be willing to wear this yak turtle neck that I am wearing.

But it is really cold outside, so I will.

Therefore, the Hershey track meet saved my life?

I dunno. You have to learn to be a good loser somewhere.

GrittyPretty said...

your stance is perfectly reasonable and how evolved if everyone were motivated by a sense of community building and non-competitive teamwork but wow-o-wow if being the 5th grade champion bike racer and arm wrestler didn't help make up for the fact that i was the tallest and biggest kid in class. i learned to deal with losing when everyone soon outgrew me but that year of winning made up for the fact that i was a giant.

love your blog.

Bingy said...

Walden style: show up to the charter-league matches barefoot, cheer when the other team scores goals as well as team walden.

Luisa said...

My sons choose to play Little League every year, and I love that at the games, the parents all cheer for both teams. Our kids have friends on every team, and we cheer for their friends, too. I like that the focus in our league is on having fun, improving skills, and getting some physical activity, rather than winning. I think that's what makes the game fun for the kids -- they don't feel there is this pressure to win.

I've heard horror stories about other leagues, though. I'd never allow my kids to play in a league where the main focus is winning. That kills the joy so fast it's not even funny.

Alice Dubiel said...

I am sad that competitive sports is the major model when it comes to developing a joyous active, capable body and integrating it with intelligence. It seems to me that there are so many other ways to work in a group and experience the utter physicality while challenging oneself. Parents who question the emphasis on competitive sports can demand alternative approaches to somatic education. Thanks for writing about this. (I won't even go into the drain of public resources or gambling aspects of sports which I think are what gets taught instead.)