Yes, absolutely. My heart goes out to him. School teams are great for those on the inside, but a source of pain and humiliation for those who always feel left out. Yet it is perfectly possible for a school to craft a sports policy that ensures all children get the same chance to play in teams. There are plenty of inclusive templates out there for PE teachers who want to do this and who care to look.
The problem, in my experience as a parent, is that so many sports teachers are little more than overgrown schoolchildren themselves. For them, winning is everything. They cultivate a cluster of sporty favourites and other pupils barely get a look in.
This is tragic because – as I also know from experience – a warm, encouraging sports teacher can coax amazing hidden talents from pupils, and send their confidence soaring.
I presume your son is now starting secondary school, and suggest you take this up with his new PE teacher and school head, explaining your past disappointments. Make it plain that you know every child is entitled to a good programme of sports activities, and that a good school will encourage all its pupils and give them opportunities. If you get no satisfaction from them, contact you local authority's PE adviser and discuss what can be done.
But do all this fairly quietly without involving your son, who might well feel mortified and embarrassed about his parents making a fuss.
Albert Camus said that everything he knew about ethics he had learnt on the football field. This is usually taken to mean things such as magnanimity in victory. But what many people learn from team sport is: win at all costs; always be like others; and despise the enemy and those who aren't good at games. Encourage your son to cultivate interests where he'll have a chance to meet others who are not motivated by the desire to win the approval of the herd or the desire to win. There are many activities that appeal to individualistically minded people from which he's likely to get far more satisfaction and in which he will meet people with true character.
David Limond, Dublin
Why are children who are good at sports made to compete with those who are enthusiastic but struggle? Imagine the kids who are good at maths being publicly made to compete with those who find the subject difficult. The school might find an inclusive goal impossible, but local sports clubs will often have A, B and Reserve teams. I was a female footballer at school and not allowed to play with the boys but found joining a local club very rewarding, even though being the only girl was a little challenging at first.
Samantha Whyte, Manchester
If your son wants to be part of a team, selected on merit, he will have to be good enough. We are not all equal. Some are better than others.
Hugh Penning, London SE18
Next Week's Quandary
My son is at an independent school. Last year we had two parent conferences in term time. But his two school reports were subsequently posted to us at the start of the holidays, giving us no chance to discuss with his teachers what was in them. Is this normal? Should we complain?
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