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Action Replay: Play the Game

The Premier League, Formula One and Wimbledon are a tiny tip of a very large iceberg in terms of sporting participation. Most of those who play of an evening or a weekend are amateurs of varying degrees of ability, taking part for fun, for exercise, for bonding with their mates. Many kids play or run or jump or swim, not so that they can win but so they can enjoy themselves, usually as part of a team.

Back in April the MCC and the cricket charity Chance to Shine released the results of a survey they had commissioned, of 8-to-16-year-olds and their parents. The headline finding was that nearly two-thirds of the children said they would not be bothered if the competitive element was removed from school sport. At the same time, almost one parent in four said they would be less interested in their offspring’s sporting activity if there was no competition involved.

Wasim Khan, the head of the charity concerned, said, ‘It is worrying to see that so many children would be relieved to see competition removed from sport … We want to teach children the importance of playing sport competitively and fairly, and for them to see the benefits that it can bring to their lives.’

In another comment on these findings, Steve Bull, described as a performance psychologist, argued: ‘Competitive sport is a great way of preparing young people for the “real world” in which things will not always go their way. Learning how to deal with adversity, bounce back from disappointment and accept that luck isn’t always on your side are important lessons for children to absorb before they step out in to the world of work’ (Observer, 27 April).

So there you have it: school sport can prepare you for the knocks you are likely to meet later in life, as competitive capitalism throws its worst at you. Don’t complain or resist too much, just toughen up and realise that things won’t always go your way.

The Duke of Wellington famously said that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, though apparently he was referring to how he learned to survive in fistfights rather than his prowess at cricket. But your schooldays don’t just fill your heads with religious or patriotic nonsense, they also exploit sport to help you learn how to cope with losing.

PB