PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 December, 2008, 12:00am

My son is sporty but his international primary school does not seem to encourage him. I am all in favour of sport for all, but schools seem to have lost their competitive spirit. I recently went to my son's school sports day and the attitude was that it doesn't matter if you win or lose as long as you take part. This watered-down attitude isn't going to make the next generation of Olympic champions.

Teacher Julie McGuire replies:

There has been a general trend in many schools towards encouraging sport for all abilities. Almost gone are the days when the last runner embarrassingly huffs and puffs up to the finish line at sports day to the smirks of their peers, their self-esteem a mile behind them.

Some would argue that this recent attitude towards sport is at the expense of the high-fliers. Those of us who love sport know there's nothing like high-level, fierce competition to raise our game or make us run faster. The bland alternative just does not work and can be very frustrating.

In every area of the curriculum the emphasis should be on each individual being pushed to reach their full potential. Sport should be no different.

An excellent mathematician would be in the top maths group (whether this is overt streaming or discrete grouping within a class). A talented musician would play in the school orchestra and a confident actor is likely to take a lead part in the school play.

Why should a child who is good at sport not be given the chance to shine? This can be a vital boost, especially for non-academic pupils who struggle in the classroom and see sport as their only outlet and chance to succeed.

Sports days are one of the great opportunities for pupils to display their sporting talents. These usually happen only once a year and, as you have pointed out, now tend to focus on team races rather than individual events.

This approach does of course help to build team spirit and allows the less able children to enjoy sporting activities in an unpressurised environment, avoiding embarrassing situations particularly linked to athletics activities which, at worst, can be totally humiliating.

Some teachers still do make sure they include individual events or relay races for the high-fliers, although this does not happen in every school. It is absolutely right that they should have the kudos of representing their team and hearing the cheers of their peers.

One possible way to provide competition for all is to race children off against each other before sports day, then ability group them so the more able have a chance to compete against each other. This means that all are challenged at their own level and the less able children feel they stand a chance.

This would seem like a good and fair compromise. It is harder work for the teachers to organise but I know at least one school where it works well. This can also be used for team sports.

All schools have teams that compete against other schools in such sports as football, rugby, cricket, netball and rounders. This allows keen and talented sports children to be involved and gain a real feeling of competition. Many children in Hong Kong also take part in extra-curricular activities which can give other opportunities for competitive sport.

Competition is an integral part of life, so we should not shield children from it. As teachers and parents we should teach children the importance of a good sporting attitude, accepting that they cannot be good at everything and the importance of doing their best whether they win or not.

As to whether our approach to sports days and the PE curriculum has been watered down so much that our latest generation of sports stars are not being stretched to their limits, it is certainly food for thought for schools.

As in most things, it is all about getting a balance - allowing talented sports children like your son to shine while encouraging all children to enjoy sport and not feel intimidated by it.