Should school sports be more competitive?

August 17, 2012, 10:40 AM GMT+0

Prime Minister, David Cameron has called for a “big cultural change … in favour of competitive sports”, and away from an “all must win prizes” approach to PE in schools.

The PM went on to say that “more competition, more competitiveness” was integral to energising schoolchildren, and capitalising on the legacy of London 2012.

But others have accused Mr Cameron of lacking a coherent policy to encourage physical fitness in the younger generation.

In YouGov’s SportsLab, we asked – broadly speaking, do you agree or disagree with the Prime Minister’s view on making school sports competitive?

Most of those who took part in the discussion said they agreed with the Prime Minister, that there needs to be more competition in sport in schools.

  • Those of you who were of this view reasoned that ‘life is competitive’, and that schoolchildren competing with one another in sports would help prepare them for one of the fundamental realities of life.
  • You also said that competing in school sports would help teach children about losing and disappointment, which are both important lessons that would prepare them for the future.
  • But others argued, on balance, that it was important to level the need for competition with inclusivity, and said that different competitive levels should be developed so that schoolchildren can work to improve their sporting abilities without feeling dejected by always losing.

While the smaller proportion of participants who disagreed with David Cameron’s view on ‘upping’ school sports competitiveness tended to say that:

  • Putting too much emphasis on winners and losers would turn some students off of sports, particularly those with weaker athletic abilities who could have their self-confidence harmed by an overly competitive culture in schools sports.
  • You argued it was more important for school children to be able to find a sport that they are reasonably good at and enjoy doing.
  • Some of you suggested that introducing individual, non-competitive sports, such as Zumba and yoga to the PE curriculum, would help increase physical activity in schoolchildren.

(Click on each argument below to see quotes from panellists.)

VIEWPOINT: 'School sports SHOULD be more competitive'

Life is full of winners and losers. Competitive Sport should prepare children for the realities of life. Be ambitious enough to win and be gracious in losing” AJ

Life is a competition and it's good to try to perform to one's best. Despite being the fat kid who always came last, I am still competitive and always try for little victories” Tracey, Aylesbury

We need competitive sports to make children aware that life is competitive. We also need to breed a new generation of competitive young people to take British sport to next levelAlex B, Keighley

“Sport is an activity that's good for the health and if taught correctly encourages young people to continue doing something active. In increasing the emphasis on competition it introduces them to the concept of having to work to winAnon

Too much mollycoddling in schools – kids need to learn that there will be disappointment in life, and how to pull yourself up and move on and learn from it so you do better next timeMrs T, Birmingham

Competition is inherent to sports. They're about challenging yourself and competing against others. It just seems that schools are dumbing-down this aspect of it. Competition is what drives you to do better. Otherwise you just get into a mind-set of ‘who cares? It doesn't matter how I perform’Anon

“Sports are a good way to introduce competition, which is important in the adult world. Competition should be for all ability levels. By that I mean have competition for people of similar ability as well as to find the best. This way competition does not have to be damaging to those of lower abilityShaz, Birmingham

While it is admirable to encourage wide participation in sports by minimising the potential stigma for worse performers, many students relish the opportunity for competition and may even be put off by the lack of opportunity to display their talents” Alex, Edinburgh

I feel that competition is healthy and will encourage children to work hard to improve their personal performances. However, I don't believe that winning should be the main aim as it would exclude those who didn't win. Instead, focus should be on improving their personal achievements or you will end up with disillusioned children not wanting to partake in the sport if the winner is a foregone conclusionAnon

“The idea that competitive sport for children is bad because someone has to be a loser is just silly. Competing in sport teaches children how to cope with winning and losing; how to both with grace and dignity. It helps children who maybe cannot do well academically to see that they are able to do well in other thingsAnon

VIEWPOINT: 'School sports should NOT be more competitive'

Increased competition discourages children who are not so good at sport from enjoying an active lifestyle. Late developing and less skilled kids could be put off exercise for life” Chas, Dorset

“Competitiveness shouldn't be discounted, but children need to enjoy sports. Having coached mini-soccer I found that children generally are naturally competitive and will seek to win. The role of schools (and adults) is not let this mar the enjoyment of sports. Competition will evolve as children find out what they're good at. We shouldn't concentrate on competition exclusively, as this will turn a lot of children off that particular sportLee, London

“The Prime Minister is just trying to deflect facts from the truth that he is cutting sports funding and educational budgets. Children should have competitive sports days with trophies or rewards for winning and placements, but all children should be rewarded for taking part. I remember my junior school sports day everyone who took part got a sweet or chocolate but the winners of each race won a larger prizeNick, Hampshire

For those children who are not sporty, competitive sports just put them off even more. If the school just takes pride in the winners, the sense of failure in others can be corrosive. There should be an emphasis on fitness, and a competitive stance to do better than beforeSheena, Hemel Hempstead

“In my own experience (and that of my children), the idea that competitive sport in school has disappeared just isn't true. By all means, make provision for those that enjoy it to compete at a higher level, on school teams (and in a broader range of activities), but forcing non-sporty types to take part can often backfire, leaving them with a life-long aversion to all sports and forms of exercise. Better that they do a little of something they might enjoy and have the health benefits of exercise rather than forced to compete and loathe it forever. Maybe introducing yoga or pilates?” Helen, Doncaster

I have worked with children and find that as soon as you make something competitive the more sporty children immediately take over because they want to win for the team, leaving a large number of children simply stood in line, or sat on a bench waiting for the next game. We should be doing more to get children active and involved from a young age, which includes greater investment in sports in schools and communities and praising the achievements of all children for taking part. Get a grip, CameronAnon

“I don't think more competition is the answer. Young people should be encouraged to do what they can. Some are naturally competitive, and that should be encouraged, others just want to get some exercise and that should be encouraged, too. And making everything too competitive will simply deter those who are less able as no-one likes coming lastIan A, Bristol

Do you agree or disagree with David Cameron’s view on more competition in school sports?

What do you think is best way to get the younger generation more physically active?