Not all our children can be sports stars

August 6, 2012

Like many of you I am full of Team GB pride at the moment. Overwhelmed by the achievements of Jessica Ennis, Bradley Wiggins (or Brad, as I like to call him), Andy Murray and the rest of our Olympic squad. I’ve spent the past week sobbing on my sofa at every medal, every posy, every race run and match fought.

These are fantastic role-models for our kids, proof that if you have the talent, grit and determination to succeed (plus a hugely dedicated parent and coach), you can.

But the most important factor in all that has to be the T word. Talent.

I went to an inner city comprehensive where if you were no good at sport – and I really wasn’t, apart from horse-riding, which wasn’t on the curriculum – you were largely ignored by the PE teachers, who were far more interested in the kids who could get glory for our school.

Fast forward 15 years or so and by the time my son went to primary school, absolutely nothing had changed. He loved football – LOVED it, went to the after-school club and everything. But because he wasn’t good enough to make the team, he was largely ignored by the results-obsessed coach. The truth is, if we hadn’t been able to afford tennis lessons and then fencing club membership, he would never have known the joy of playing a sport he loved, of competing and enjoying the spirit of taking part.

I was quite surprised then to see tweeps tweeting last night that Jessica’s victory proved that she was a much better role model for our kids than the winners of the X Factor. Surprised because the truth is, not all our kids can be sports stars, so to start suggesting anyone can become an Olympic gold medallist is a complete fallacy. Sorry, but you have to have the aptitude to begin with.

For singers like Rebecca Ferguson – supremely talented but from a poor background – the X Factor gave them the chance to show the world what they could do.

But the truth is, not all kids can be sports stars, and not all kids can be singers, or actors, or writers, or politicians, or scientists. Not everyone can be famous – and not everyone wants to be. But all our kids should be encouraged to do something they love, and achieve to the best of their ability, in any chosen field. Jessica Ennis IS a great role model, as are Andy Murray and Brad Wiggins, but so is Rebecca Ferguson, Jamie Oliver, JK Rowling and Kathy Burke and Danny Boyle and all those amazing doctors and teachers and anyone who has achieved something they’ve set out to do.

We shouldn’t be knocking anyone’s achievements – we should be celebrating all of them, and giving all our kids the power of self-belief. But we should also be letting them know it’s OK if they don’t win, as long as they do their best. Because really, isn’t that what being part of Team GB is all about?

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