Sports Day

July 4, 2009

Potentially one of the more enjoyable times in the school calendar is sports day. This is a chance to get out of the classroom at the height of summer and do pretty much nothing other than watch or  (for the students) take part in sport. This can involve some hassle. Students can be funny about taking part, particularly as they get older. If there are no appropriate facilities on the school site then it might involve taking students on a coach, something which is rarely fun. Students still have to be supervised during sports day, but it is no worse than, say, break duty. On the whole, even at tough schools, it can, and should, be quite a positive experience.

Nevertheless, I have experienced roughly as many bad, stressful sports days as fun, enjoyable ones.  There’s really one issue here that makes the difference. All sports days are dependent on students being in the right place and doing the right thing, both when they are competing and when they aren’t. Apart from the obvious issue that they might be doing something harmful or dangerous when unsupervised, there are real difficulties if students cannot be found when it is their turn to compete, or if they are left at such a degree of liberty that they end up disrupting the events, for instance, by wandering onto the track during a race.

The ratio of pleasure and pain on sports day depends on how much time you have to spend controlling students, and whether or not the day has been organised with this in mind.

The best sports days I have had are ones where I had limited responsibility for controlling students or, if I was supervising students, it was only my own form group, and expectations and rules had been established properly beforehand. You know you have a competently run sports day if both you and the students know where the everybody should be at all times and there are rules governing any kind of movement of students. This can be achieved through proper planning. Students and staff need to be told before the day begins where everybody, and particularly the students, will be located and how important it is to keep them there. Staff meetings and assemblies need to be used for this purpose, then once you get there, you won’t have to spend time telling students where they should be based and you can concentrate on the exceptions, i.e. letting students go to compete or to use the facilities. This kind of planning also means that in the event that a student does start causing a problem then you know where to find the correct person (e.g. head of year, or SMT) to deal with it.

Sports days are considerably less enjoyable if you are left in charge of an amorphous group of children who either keep wandering off, or you keep being joined by other students who you don’t know. It becomes very difficult to ensure students turn up to events and it becomes far more difficult to keep a lid on things like litter or silly behaviour. This will become extremely stressful if you are faced with a student who is kicking off with no clear plan in place for what to do about them, and for that reason a lot of teachers start turning a blind eye to problems.

The worst case scenario, and I am glad to have only been in this situation once, is if you are told to supervise students you don’t know, and what you are told to do with them is inconsistent. Letting students wander is not good for organisation, but it is still less stressful than being told one moment to keep them together and the next moment that they can sit where they like. My worst sports day consisted of being told that I must keep 7Y (who I didn’t know) together all day, and then, having spent hours struggling to do this, just as they began to defy me directly to my face, I was told by their year head that actually they could sit where they like after all. Rules which are not enforced are often far more harmful than no rules at all and a chain of command which breaks is worse than no chain of command at all. Unfortunately, this applies to more than just sports days.


  1. “Rules which are not enforced are often far more harmful than no rules at all and a chain of command which breaks is worse than no chain of command at all. Unfortunately, this applies to more than just sports days.”

    Sums it up neatly. This is why every school year starts of on a positive footing with rules been enforced and people following up incidents and you always think things are going to change for the better etc. Sadly by November / December this doesn’t happen and the school decends into chaos and gets worse until its all over for the summer. Then it all starts again … it’s just like a reoccuring nightmare and you can even start pinpointing the days on the calendar when the kids start getting the upper hand until they really start running the school in the last 2 / 3 weeks.

  2. Heavens to Betsy, we can’t have a hymn sheet to which everyone sings! What account does that take of individual differences? Special needs? Human rights?

  3. I have to say that I’m not looking forward to our Sports Day next Monday. The kids have been demob happy for weeks – the high temperatures have made things much worse and I anticipate having to stand in a field trying to keep groups of kids from either running off or stabbing each other with javelins.
    Not to mention the fact that I loathe sport!

  4. For all the hassles, a well-run sports day can make you forget a couple of years of bad ones.

  5. That has not been my experience. Forgetting a month of successful teaching after one shit lesson is more like it.

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