So I cried at my daughter’s cross-country, before she raced.

Yup, that’s a big heart on my sleeve title right there. It may even come as a surprise to my loving husband who was standing right next to me. Gotta love sunglasses.

My daughter is 7. Cross country running (or any running or even walking for that matter) is not her favourite thing. She takes after her mother like that. But she loves to dance. I have no idea where that came from. So we went along to support her, cheer her on as she faced a 750m running race with all of the other Yr 2 girls.

We got to see the other years run first, individual Prep classes then Yr 1 girls then Yr 1 boys. And it broke my heart.

Cross country running spreads out kids just as life does. One child in each race crosses first. The others are near the front, in the middle or near the end. And another child crosses last. Last. Those four letters have such an impact on our self-esteem.

The school encourages equal participation. Try your best. Everyone gets a ribbon. While some may argue that this takes the competitive edge off our kids and doesn’t prepare them for the real world, there’s another life lesson lurking in cross-country running. In some areas of your life you will finish first. In some areas you will finish last, This is ok. This is life.

And bless the teachers of her school, some who ran with their classes, at the back, so they crossed last. And I’m not talkiing the fit, sporty teachers. They were saying to their kids ‘hey, we can do this, we can start & finish this, if I can – you can’. So yeah, that was partly a contributor to my tears.

The most painful part for me though was seeing the kids who really struggled and came last. Other mums had said ‘my son/daughter is stressed, isn’t sleeping, has confessed that they just don’t want to come last.’ And it took me right back to my own childhood. Because I was exactly the same. Cross country running was once a year torture. The only things that made it bearable were the support of some of my other classmates and my parents who couldn’t care less how I did in running. Or PE in general. My parents knew that my performance on the sports field didn’t define me. They knew that I was great in other areas of my life. They knew that my cross-country was not going to negatively impact my chances of success in life.

So, as a little kid came huffing & puffing, red-faced around the corner to the final straight home, and the crowd started cheering louder, even louder than they had for first place, I felt his pain .. the pain of being last. And I wanted to reach out and grab him and look into his eyes and say ‘you finished what you started and that’s what mattered. Don’t let this moment define you. Don’t let this be a measure of your self worth. You are so much more than this and you will grow up and do great things.’

I believe that exposure to competition is a natural part of life. I believe we need to show our kids that some people come first and some people come last. But I also think we need to put this into context for them. And I know our teachers and most parents do a great job of that. Our children deserve to be rewarded for their strengths, encouraged in their weaknesses and to be helped to find that beautiful, complete, whole person picture of who they are. Just as we all do.

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