The Olympics was a fantastic show, Well done Britain, Well done London – let’s not extrapolate about competitive sports, Dave

It was a fantastic show, and it turned Brits from a bunch of cynical curmudgeonly gits to cheerful folk for a while.  Well done everybody – the athletes, the crowds, Danny Boyle, even Zippy BoJo in his own curious style. The Ermine has his own reasons for being grateful for London 2012 as it allowed me to run my exit plan, a great swansong project to work on as a small piece for The Firm and to save enough to retire early. It’s good to go out on a high 🙂

Something to also be thankful for is that no bunch of idiotic sociopathic zealots managed to kill people or otherwise bugger things up.

What I wouldn’t like to see is for politicians to take the wrong message away though. There is probably a legacy to be taken away from the success, but it needs care and nuance to derive it. Not everything is as it seems.

No, Dave. Some is good. More is not always better

Our Dave has decided to hitch a wagon to the moment, and is calling for More. Competitive. Sport. In. Schools. Now.

The ermine says NO. I went to a grammar school, that did a lot of things right, in hindsight. However, in the frenetic anti-grammar school ethos of 1970s Labour, they were also a wannabe independent school, and actually became one later on as they were forced out of the LEA unless they became a comprehensive school. One of the things people associate with independent schools in Britain is some sort of Calvinist concept that competitive sports is character building.

Dave is half right. I’d agree with him that the ethos of not failing needs to be canned. Not convinced about team sports at all. My experience of compulsory-for-all competitive sports in schools is that it is character building – just that it builds the wrong sort of character. Competitive sports doesn’t, in general, teach schoolkids to be sporting and to play the game and have respect for your fellow man and win or lose well. It pumps up those with more physical prowess, tells them they are great. That turns them into nasty bullies. I ended up on the wrong end of that. I am of average build but physically nothing special. I didn’t see the point of sports. And got hassle all the time in competitive sports, until one day I came to the conclusion that though it wasn’t considered sporting and cricket, when the lead of the rugby team decided to pick on me for the n’th time that a good hefty knee in the nuts would improve this psychopath’s attitude no end. It did. It also improved the attitude of his mates; they realised that the Ermine was capable of totally unpredictable and dangerous behaviour, even though he was a weakling.

Before then I had been knocked out cold and generally harassed, all in the name of sport. School children are nasty and immature – the whole point of school is to mould them until they can function in a human society. Competitve psorts are great for those good at it, and this goes to their head, so they despise and pick on the uncoordinated or the weak, or the different. I was different, and poorly coordinated.

Now it may be at Eton they actually take the time to teach the weak and uncoordinated how to use their physical capabilities to better effect. The different they probably deal with by not accepting them in the first place 😉

I had to get to work and go through safety training before I learned I had more upper body strength than typical, because I was shown how to apply it properly. Teenagers are often poorly coordinated because their bodies are growing, perhaps I had a worse case of that than normal. Becoming an adult fixed that for me.

Unlike Eton, at a State school there probably isn’t enough time to teach the less able, and there isn’t the time to teach those good at competitive sports some social compassion either. My experience of competitive sports is that it is a bullies’ charter. There’s not enough money in the education system in my view to avoid that, and in the end school is also about giving people the skills to be productive workers in an industrial society, and we probably need improvement in that area which is also a call on resources.

No, Dave. More competitive sports at school is not an answer until you can find a way to stop it being a bullies’ charter. I was lucky enough to be self-aware enough to see that exceptional circumstances needed exceptional solutions and realise that going outside socially accepted norms was a reasonably response to a pumped up thug high on praise. Not every picked on kid is lucky enough to have an insight like that, or to have the grit to execute such a risky plan.

It also had a knock-on effect. I hate and loathe all sorts of team sports in all their manifestations. I probably am physically lazy by nature, but school gave me a specific loathing for sport. I’ve never set foot in a gym since leaving school. It does show 😉

I’m not rabidly anti-exercise, but I do demand it does something for me. Cycling is okay because it gets me from one place to another without running costs. I am prepared to hike to see interesting stuff. But team sports, no. I am extremely happy that they are not part of my life, as a participant or a spectator, ever since the experiences of school. At least there’s an upside – Sky is never going to sell me an expensive sports package 😉

So, Dave, the Olympics was magic and showed the best of British on the fields of play and off them. This was the pinnacle of human physical achievements. You can’t just infer the general from the particular to say that therefore more competitive sports is needed in schools until you have the answer to the side-effects of encouraging nasty little pieces of work to bully the less physically competent. Competitive sports teaches kids might is right as a byproduct. That’s not necessarily a good thing to do…



13 thoughts on “The Olympics was a fantastic show, Well done Britain, Well done London – let’s not extrapolate about competitive sports, Dave”

  1. The general tone last in last week’s comments were that “we need to have compulsory education to win more medals in future”: more “success” oriented than “health”.

    Some athletes seem to have started young. Some seem to have got into their sport at 15 or 16. I do wonder if there really is any relationship between starting age & later success.

    It seems “obvious” that success requires starting young, but is it actually “correct”? Is this yet another case of a government grabbing a headline with an obvious answer, or has someone actually done some research?


  2. I like the idea that the Olympics will boost interest in sports, but I do agree that competitiveness is the wrong lesson. The lesson that really needs to be inferred from the last 2 weeks is that these are really just ordinary people who worked really hard to become great at something.

    I’ve met some of these people and can verify that they are all humans who really got into something.

    The problem with kids these days is they believe you are either good at something or not… its a binary code you get taught. However, whilst you do develop better aptitudes for things, no one is born a genius in anything.

    If they can’t produce a vertuouso performance in something within 2 months of starting these kids will give up and prepare for a life of benefits and complaining, mostly that they just weren’t born with enough talents.

    I regret that no-one told me that if I worked really hard, that I might one day have a chance of being a good footballer despite starting very young with some promise. That encouragement and understanding that success takes hard work and hardship needs to be the lasting lesson not, as you say, fights on the playing fields.


  3. is this perhaps a quirk of English language and British culture that *competitive* sports and *contact* sports are being confused here?

    I thought the idea of *all* sport was to be competitive, and to win, hopefully either within the rules or not being caught if the athletes are taking a load of substances even 1990s era ravers would balk at (such as what Belgian cyclists often ingested to win).

    but with others like cycling or javelin throwing you usually try to avoid colliding with or spearing rivals or team mates. That can result even in arrest, just like on the footy field these days and Sunday leagues here (I do live in IP2 after all :D)

    Where the present Government are invariably likely to screw up is concentrating on cheap to deliver contact sports rather than others which require more expensive teaching and equipment (even though it tends to be the non contact ones were are winning more medals with).


  4. “Some seem to have got into their sport at 15 or 16. I do wonder if there really is any relationship between starting age & later success.”

    Watch this from 20 minutes to 25… what you have in a talented footballer is an ability to calculate complex trajectories and work out the flight of a ball. Even with the lights switched off just after a ball is kicked, a footballer can score a goal… irrefutable in my mind. Can only come from learning from experience – no one can do that intuitively.


  5. It will be the contact sports that are invested in, as these make for better telly, and therefore more people signing up to Sky TV and giving money to the government’s best mate Murdoch. Governments of either persuasion…

    I agree with journalists who compare those athletes gracious enough to apologise and blame only themselves for only coming SECOND (in the world) after training fifteen hours a day for four years; with the overpaid footballers who blame everyone else when they don’t win.


  6. @Rob interesting video. Thanks.

    Experience certainly matters, but passion (or at least interest) matters more, since you’re unlikely to attain experience without interest.

    I’m not sure to what extent compulsory school sport fosters interest. Even where there’s a clear link between the sports played when young and later life, how much of the interest comes from the schooling, and how much from outside factors like what opportunities you have and how your parents encourage you.

    There are also many sports which are rarely taught to youngsters, and even more rarely in state schools. The relationship between an early start and later success must surely be much weaker for these sports.

    Of all the Olympic sports, football, running & swimming are probably the three that most athletes will have experienced in school, yet Team GB didn’t really do that well in those disciplines. Most medals were earned in sports that aren’t available in schools.

    I’m more curious than doubtful about this assumed relationship between school sports and later interest (let alone success).


  7. It will be interesting to see what the ‘legacy’ of the Games will really be in the course of time. I agree with you though Ermine that Dave’s call for more competetiveness in school sports is misplaced. Sports clubs are the place for this.
    I remember my daughter stopping in the middle of a sports day race at infants school to wait for the little girl who was coming last. She took her hand and ran to the finishing line with her-both came in last. I still feel proud of her when I think of it! (She hated sports at secondary school – but is a black belt in Karate)
    I think it was Jessica Ennis who said in an interview that the first thing needed to encourage the young to take part in sport is fun!
    Sport also has to evolve like art, technology and science and new sports that enthuse today’s ‘yoof’ need to be encouraged.
    I’m sure the subject will preoccupy politicians, educational psychologists etc,etc for years to come.
    In the meantime -looking forward to the paralympics!


  8. @ Romany – what a lovely story about your daughter! Good for her 🙂

    I’m another one who really didn’t “click” with sport at school. I went to a tin pot independent school, and while there wasn’t the full on physical bullying, there was the stupid clique building around people who were good at sport. I just disconnected from team sport, and it took the freedom of adult life to discover cycling, rowing and other invididual sports that I am far better at, and which don’t involve being humiliated for being uncoordinated.

    And I mean humiliated – one games teacher would openly take the piss out of me. I was very tall – which meant I was uncoordinated as a teenager, but great at rowing as an adult – which I took pleasure in telling that former teacher about, while implying she was a crap teacher for not bringing my talents out at a school, at a reunion years later. The look on her face gave me a great deal of pleasure. I dropped the rowing, though who knows, perhaps I could have been a serious athlete?

    But my early experiences of being given no help, or encouragement in any sport I was good at, at an early ages put me off the whole competitive sporting scene.

    Cameron should really watch it here. He comes across as a posh boy who might have been in one of the bullying cliques that the Ermine describes, though no doubt they did it with more class at Eton.


  9. Steve and Romany’s comments are very pertinent.

    for the later part of my teenage days I went to the oft criticised “leftie comprehensive” – and actually wasn’t as rubbish as I thought at PE/games – but not as good at team sports -so in the “right on” days of the late 80s the younger PE teachers (perhaps trying to shake off their stereotypical image) let me turn up to the sports I was OK at, and didn’t care if I “forgot my kit” for the others or quite blatantly bunked off those, provided I didn’t truant from any other lessons (as they would get in bother for it).

    This lack of authority and blatant flouting of rules would of course make the Daily Fail lot froth at the mouth but it saved all of us a load of hassle.

    at the same time though I wanted to ride my bike as I had done as a child, but both my parents and the school went on about how dangerous this was (whilst the area filled up with yet more private cars exacerbating the issue).

    when I started cycling in 2001, within the space of a few years I was easily one of the fastest riders amongst my peers In hindsight I do think had this been encouraged in earlier days I might have not done badly in cycling as a sport… and we didn’t do that badly as Team GB *but* that means *spending public cash* on *safer streets* as well as training ground for athletes and in this country that is always done begrudgingly and with bad grace.


  10. @all I think you guys understand sport a lot mroe than I do. I failed to draw any distinction between contact sports and competitive sports.It’s interetsing that we weren’t that great at the sports encountered in schools. Boosters for school sport would probably say that it still fosters an interest in sport that can be taken further, and I guess the causalties that get turned off from sports in school turn into fat bastards that become a drain on the NHS. Looking around at my fellow Britons I fear there are a lot of the latter 😉

    Rob’s football vid was really amazing, however! FWIW I think some of the you’re either good at something or not may be fostered by the teaching of sports. I actually wanted to learn how to climb a rope, because I thought it mught be useful to me, but it wasn’t obvious to me what you do, and nobody would even outline the theory of what is meant to happen by showing me.


  11. Sports and bullying – the two most miserable aspects of schooling — often rolled into one convenient package in the form of a track-suited whistle-wagging Neanderthal. Ugh – I’ve had no interest in team sports ever since, though the bullying side of the equation altered somewhat when I took up taekwondo 😉

    Funnily enough, as a non-athletic pacifist, all the sports I’ve ever enjoyed have been martial arts: taekwondo, karate, judo, javelin and archery… hmmmm…

    It’ll be interesting to see how Camo squares this new found enthusiasm with the latest assault on facilities:

    Now I’ve returned to my roots I can see the primary school I attended, and the reduction of the outdoor space is shocking – both for sports and playground. We used to have space for those madcap 30-a-side football games and still leave half of the field for the girls to do cartwheels and make daisy-chains 😉 (Luckily, these days, the girls play football too) Now the break-times are staggered, with only about a third of the school outside at any one time. The old long-jump pit is buried under portakabins, and the ‘nature area’ is no more. The village and the school population have both grown dramatically in the intervening 40 years, so it’s probably no surprise, really.


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