High school water torture

So, it was my daughter’s school swimming carnival yesterday. Predictably, she didn’t want to go. She’s not very… err… sporty. But, as always, I made her go, because my mum used to make me. And because I think it’s the ‘right thing to do’.

I mentioned things like school spirit. Well-rounded education. And even a terribly lame ‘swimming is important’ – what did that mean?

She argued. ‘No one else is going’ – (I say I don’t care what everyone else is doing). ‘What’s the point, I’m not swimming’ – (I say then go support the kids who are).

But truthfully, I’m not sure I believe any of it. Is it important for her to go to a swimming carnival that she doesn’t even take her swimsuit to, to hang out with friends and count the minutes? When she could have been at home, catching up on homework or doing other productive things? Is carnival participation less important as they get older and it becomes more and more clear that they’ll never be a sportsperson?

Does anyone care to convince me that yesterday was a worthwhile exercise?



  1. I started out thinking much the same as you lay out here (in fact, almost exactly the same arguments!), with an added element of not wanting to be inconvenienced by having a child home from school if it wasn’t necessary. But with my all very un-sporty kids now in years 5, 8 and 9 and almost never participating in sports carnival events of any kind, I’ve given in, if they don’t want to go, I won’t make them. Unless I’m going along too (sometimes I feel like going and picnicking with the other parents, other times not so much).

    • Glad I’m not the only one. I’m not inconvenienced because she can be at home on her home – guess you have to trust your kid for that one. But here’s another question for you – what do you tell the school? I hate lying, and if I say ‘she is sick’, I know she’ll be one of 372 kids who are ‘sick’ that day. The school requires a note with a reason for her absence.

      • Yeah, my older kids are fine on their own, but the campaigns for avoiding carnivals started when they were much younger!

        I once wrote a note saying my son was absent due to apathy, I meant mine 🙂 I’ve also written that I felt he had better things to do than sit in the sun all day being bored and lonely – enforced sitting in house groups seriously sucks if your only friend is in another house! If the school wants to challenge me about the reasons I don’t make my kids go I have a lovely, well rehearsed rant about the evils of ritual humiliation and the negative effect of forcing kids who loathe competitive sports to participate in them which I can deliver at the drop of a hat.

        The high school swimming carnival is only compulsory for year 7 so I don’t have to grapple with that one, I doubt I’ll make my youngest go to the primary school one this year, though he may surprise me and want to go, I try not to make assumptions.

  2. The cut-off when I was growing up was when we were old enough to not represent an inconvenience to my mother if we stayed home. Self-sufficiency also heralded the end of swimming and sports carnivals forever.

    When they’re younger, it can genuinely be about participation, but there comes a time in most schools where only competitiveness is valued. At that point, I see no reason why kids should be forced to attend. Does the whole school have to go support the debating team?

    • No that’s very true. Those poor debaters are going it alone. And it’s an interesting point, that it gets to a stage where it is just about the competition. That’s probably around the point they stop making everyone participate in at least one race. But I also appreciate them eliminating the compulsory age race, because they were pretty excruciating.

      Did your mum make you do school work on those days, or was it a day off?

      • It was a day off. I was responsible for my own school work by then. I guess if I’d had an assignment that needed doing, I’d have done it.

        I think the abandonment of compulsory age races is a tacit acknowledgment that they’ve moved on from participation, and is a Good Thing if that’s what’s happened. One of my high schools carried on with the compulsory races well after it had moved into competition only mode, which I found humiliating and hideous. If my kids were co-erced when they desperately didn’t want to participate, I think I’d keep them home on humanitarian grounds! 🙂

  3. I hate swimming carnivals in primary school. My daughter didn’t start formal swimming lessons until grade 2. But swimming carnival starts with prep. She could swim a bit and as an immigrant I was bamboozled by the term *carnival* – ooh fun, I thought. But kids who couldn’t swim more than 25 meters were sent back to the class at lunchtime where they just filled in time til the end of the day while the competitors continued their races. She felt so left out and, I don’t know,…alien… to her classmates. How about an alternative? Couldn’t those who don’t want to compete go to the local museum? I’d volunteer for that before I’d volunteer for swimming pool duty. Can we make all kids participate in arts and science the same way?

    • Thanks Rose. The word ‘carnival’ certainly over-promises when applied to school swimming and athletics 🙂 I know many schools do participate in science and art festivals – but again, they do not require whole-of-school participation, as you say.

  4. Spectating at a swimming carnival =/= education.
    Discipline and respect should have been taught at home first and foremost.
    Personally I think parents need to lighten up 😉
    Children do need to learn how to deal with disappointment, how to be good sports (as both a loser and a winner – which seems to be overlooked by many) and that sometimes important things in life (that we may not enjoy) need to be done / endured regardless, though I don’t see spectating at a school swimming carnival as the pinnacle of learning arenas.

  5. it does = life education though. Learning at home is great but no matter how large your family you can’t replicate the feelings. Waiting until the child has left home and is actually an adult is too late to start on the you can’t always have you own way/cant always win.

    It’s not about parents lightening up. I think we are amongst the first generations of parents who have had to face this. We as kids didn’t have any choice, we had to do it. Younger adults that are in the work force are being shown to be pretty useless at doing things they don’t like because they can’t see the point…which is coming from parents lightening up and saying, no, my child can’t ever feel bad so no competitive sports in school, no chance at losing, must always be happy etc etc.

  6. It is about dissapline and respect for themselves and others. This generation needs to learn about having a go even if you aren`t sporty. Do we let our children do what they like only at home? I think not! If my child doesn`t like maths will we get them to sit that one out as well. Kids and parents toughen up.

  7. It is about time when a child commits suidie or alleged tragic accident that the Police fully investigate the matter and see if the poor child was forced into sport to make mum and dad happy. No doubt the parents were forcing their own dreams on the child. Schools should also be investigated whether they have forced students to participate in the sport and they did not want to but the school anxious to win a cup. Charges should and must be laid against Parents or Teachers who have resulted in a child committing suicide or alleged tragic accident. When teachers know a child has been bullied and a death occurs they should also be charged as well as the bullies parents.

  8. I was never a good swimmer (the one year I didn’t make an excuse to avoid the trials I was applauded by the whole school when I finally struggled to the other end!) but went along every year. I cheered, I barracked, I hung out with friends and I never really thought about not going. It wasn’t actually an option.
    There are no doubt pros and cons for ‘forcing’ kids to attend, but I don’t think it’s torturous. That said, my school was small enough that it was only ever a two-hour event!

  9. Okay, I’ll say this straight out. I’m a kid…

    I always go along to the swimming, athletics and cross country carnival and participate, even if my friends aren’t as sporty as I am
    I hate swimming and always have. I have participated in the 50m freestyle race my whole school life and now I want it to stop!
    I just hate swimming so much but my Mum forces me to go in a race no, two races. I don’t even do swimming lessons anymore so I doubt I’ll be able to finish the lap…
    I tried to tell her I don’t want to go in a race but she wouldn’t listen to me

  10. My daughter went to her first swimming carnival (shes only 8) and she won two heats but did not make the finals. She just made the cut off for under 9s so was swimming with kids in the next year and she was totally miserable. Personally I have always hated swimming carnivals and cannot see the point. They are always dominated by the few swimmers who do squad swimming and its just another day off for the teachers.

  11. I’m meant to be at swimming carnival today but after years of bugging my mum in the weeks leading up to it she decided I’d done enough of the hard yards to stay home (I’m year 11 this year). I know most kids will use today to go out with friends or sleep in but I got up at my usual time, cleaned my room and have been working on homework since, much more productive than a day of sitting alone (none of my friends go) watching the year 7s and 8s swim. I’d rather they just get rid of swimming and athletics days altogether, I’d rather an extra 2 full day of school and homework than watching the clock for 6 hours.



CommentLuv badge