The journey through parenthood is punctuated with a number of ‘firsts’ along the way; First tooth, first ‘dry night’, first full night’s sleep, first word, first time they vomit all over the back seat. The list goes on, and looming large for your correspondent this summer was first school sports day. Here’s what I learned.
1. Eggs are so 80s
I distinctly recall taking part in an egg and spoon race when I was at primary school, the clue as to what this entailed being in the name. Keep said egg on said spoon as speed-walk from point A to point B. It’s an old classic that has stood the test of the decades, so it was no surprise to see it on the agenda at my daughter’s first sports day.
The shock, however, was that there was not an egg in sight. The traditional ovoid object had been replaced by the humble – and far less hazardous – new potato. Somehow, ‘egg and spud’ race just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Is the baby Jersey Royal now the staple choice for this event?
2. Five-year-olds DO NOT listen
This is not a revelation for any parent reading this, but it was a point clarified in stark relief during a number of the events. Take the humble ‘doggy sprint’ event, for example, the premise of which is to hustle to the nearest cone and back, then the next furthest, and so on, returning each time to the point at which you began until you end with a sprint to the finish line.
Some older children demonstrated this quite clearly and explained to the reception kids exactly what was required of them.
When the event started, what unfolded was a reincarnation of Monty Python’s 100m dash for people with no sense of direction. Watching the teachers try to get them all going the right way was like watching a shepherd corral a flock of sheep on acid.
3. Girls can skip, boys cannot
As the gaggle of watching parents shuffled around the school field following their children’s events, I was confident of my little one’s chances when we arrived at the skipping rope race. It’s something she has picked up naturally in the back garden while watching me trying to learn double-unders and lacerating my legs in the process.
And so it was with a little pride I watched her scorch around the track to win by a country mile while others stood on the line examining the rope like it was a Rubik’s Cube.
Others set off and immediately got into a tangle, while some were aided by teachers lobbing the rope over their heads before guiding them through it. It has to be said, the dividing line between the ‘coulds’ and ‘could-nots’ was largely drawn by gender.
Girls get skipping the way boys get kicking a ball. Some things just are the way they are.
4. Pushy parents are a real thing
Having grown up playing team sports I have seen my share of dads bawling themselves purple on the touchline, but you might think a reception class sports day would be a setting in which parental encouragement was confined to gentle cheering and lots of clapping.
You would be wrong.
I watched as one little lad desperately tried to do his father’s bidding as he yelled: 'Faster, Freddie, faster! Push yourself son!'
'Freddie' hustled, bless him, but he was somewhat hampered by his baggy tracksuit bottoms and the fact that, oh yes, he’s one of the smallest kids in the year group, and three strides of his equate to one of the taller children. I hope he got dinner that night.
5. You can’t beat a bog-standard running race
The day comprised skipping, throwing, wriggling through hoops and dropping bean bags in buckets.
But the grand finale, rightfully so, was the straightforward sprint race. You can tinker and tweak with as many variations of competition as you like, but when it comes to the playground chat, what everyone really wants to know is, who’s the fastest runner.
I was comforted that the pure racing was left ‘til last and it produced the biggest audience of the day as parents craned sunburned necks and roared the kids along the straight.
Granted, some of the runners didn’t regard this test of pure running ability in quite the same way, pausing to pick up dropped hats and frequently seeking out mum or dad in the crowd to stop and wave at them. I’m sure their laser-like focus will come with time.
6. Parents' races – a thing of the past?
The competitor in me was a little disappointed there was no dads' race as part of the fun. It was probably for the best. A friend with a child further up the school took part last year and finished minus most of the skin on his knees.
Perhaps, by the time we’re turning up to watch our children compete, we should accept that centre-stage is theirs, and no one really wants to watch a collection of adults of varying degrees of fitness try to salvage a fleeting glimpse of their youth.
Plus, I felt really daft having turned up in racing shorts and spikes.