Sports Day – A traditional approach


Sports Day is a highlight of the school calendar. It is a time for celebration, of competition and of bringing the whole school together in something other than the pursuit of academic success. If done well it can build a sense of belonging and place within the school, aspire students to take up athletics or become more serious about it and to have older students encourage and motivate younger students which can break down potential barriers. It brings parents and teachers together in a positive and supportive manner. It can build a sense of community and spirit.

My approach to Sports Day at school is a traditional one. It requires pupils to compete against each other, in the proper events, under proper rules (including disqualification), with the rest of the school spectating and supporting. So on one May afternoon the whole school decamps to the local athletics stadium for some competitive running, jumping and throwing.

The Organisation

Each House needs to organise 5 teams. Year 7, Year 8, Year 9, Year 10 and Year 11, 12 and 13 combined.

Year Group Events
Year 7 Events: 75m, 75m Hurdles, 150m, 800m, Long Jump, High Jump, Javelin, Shot and Relay
Year 8 Events: 100m, 80m Hurdles, 200m, 300m, 800m, 1500m, Long Jump, High Jump, Triple Jump, Shot, Javelin and Relay
Year 9 Events: 100m, 100m Hurdles, 200m, 300m, 800m, 1500m, Long Jump, High Jump, Triple Jump, Shot, Javelin and Relay
Year 10 Events: 100m, 100m Hurdles, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, Long Jump, High Jump, Triple Jump, Shot, Javelin and Relay
Senior Events:(Year 11, 12 and 13 Combined) 100m, 110m Hurdles, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, Long Jump, High Jump, Triple Jump, Shot, Javelin, Discus and Relay A and Relay B

Once the teams have been selected the 6th Form type them up on Google Docs. This allows them to be updated to the last moment, which helps the admin staff with registration and which pupils will be spectating or competing. It also allows me to manipulate the information very easily, allowing track lists, field lists and competitor lists to be put together and shared with all staff and 6th Form who are running teams and events. It also means I can easily produce results sheets that are easy to fill in, and keep for future use, especially if we want to put students forward for district or county trials later in the term.

Every House needs to ensure they have two competitors in each event. Each competitor can either do one track event and a relay or one field event and a relay. Before we allowed as a  maximum 1 track, 1 field and 1 relay per pupil. The decision to change it was made to increase the numbers of pupils that participate in the event and it has been successful this year. It also stops students who are competing in both a track or field event missing one if they are scheduled at the same time.

The 4 members of my department including myself are affiliated with a House and we support the Head of House and the House Tutors in team selection. The House prefects (Year 12 and Year 13) are responsible for running House Athletics practices at lunchtimes and after school (under the supervision of the PE Department) in the build up to Sports Day. This is used both as preparation and team selection.

The Running Order

A running order is produced and shared with parents, staff, pupils via the school website and the athletics stadium we are fortunate enough to use. It is important to have this timed and planned out in advance to ensure that the event is finished promptly. Two duties that I think are essential are the Track Supervisor and the Field Supervisor. Their job is to ensure students are at their events promptly and that the events start on time. They are in constant communication with the announcer and the team manager.

The weights for throws we use are:

Year 7 and 8 Year 9 and 10 Year 11, 12 and 13
Shot 3.25kg 4.00kg 5.00kg
Javelin 600g 700g 800g
Discus N/A N/A 1.5kg

I know the above doesn’t quite fit to the recommendations from the ESAA, but this is what works in our context and we make sure that pupils are above all safe and happy when performing the events. It also ensures consistency and the Senior pupils in Year 11, 12 and 13 are very keen to break the records. All areas are set-up in advance by the PE staff and the stadium staff. Clear instructions about weights and rules have been given to the staff running duties in advance and the PE Department offer an INSET before Sports Day for anyone that is worried about running an event.

Points – A very simple system. There are always 8 competitors in any event. 8 for a win, 7 for second, 6 for third and so on. This is doubled for the relays. We have individual Year group winners and this is totalled to find the overall winner for sports day. The points accrued from this event goes to our overall House Competition. Sports Day is usually the final event of the Year to allow all students to know who has won the House Competition before Year 11 and 13 go on study leave.

All staff have duties on the day. I email well in advance of the competition asking for help from colleagues, then put a duties and timings list together for all staff, including supervision duties. Thankfully my colleagues are very happy to help. If they are not running events, recording results or on the tannoy as the announcer and commentator (thank you Head of English for your dry wit) then they are with the SLT and Heads of House in the stands and around the sports complex monitoring behaviour and modelling appropriate support. Senior pupils who are not involved in competition in events also help with the supervision and act as Team Managers for the younger years, helping the PE Department ensure that the competitors turn up to the right event at the right time. I also have a ‘media crew’ from the 6th Form who do live interviews with the competitors, take photos and live tweet the results on the PE Department Twitter feed.

Top three in every event are awarded a medal (kindly donated by ex students), on the podium in front of the stand, where the spectators are. Either the Head Teacher, myself as Director of Sport or a guest we invite takes this responsibility of awarding and it adds to the overall flavour of the event, especially as the spectators are very generous with their applause.


We have over of the third of a school compete which is very pleasing from a participation point of view. Inclusivity for our House Competition is not done via single events, but by the amount of events we offer students over the course of the year (currently 20 per year group, including non-sporting events such as bridge, debating, music, singing and general knowledge). Its a perfect way to finish the Year 11 and Year 13s time at the school, especially those students who have dedicated a lot of time and effort to the House.

The future

Some traditions are important. They are traditions because they contain the best knowledge we have gained and the best we have done in the past. However I am not so set in my ways that I blindly follow tradition, especially in what we provide for students and the experiences we create for them. Perhaps it would be best to think of tradition as dynamic tradition. Something that has been done before, with regularity, that is kept being done because it is good and successful, but always looking to improve by adding, subtracting or refining ideas. I would welcome any feedback to my approach to Sports Day or for you to share your own Sports Day approaches with me.

Further Reading

5 thoughts on “Sports Day – A traditional approach

  1. Good day, my friend.

    Firstly I find your approach to be professional and thorough. I love the whole-school involvement and via your description can actually feel what it would be like to be involved and to compete. I do however differ from you in my holistic approach to sports day type events.

    Despite my hyper-competitive behavioural traits I try to see competition in the broadest possible way. I do, for example, value competition as an exemplification of learning and as a citadel for trying to one’s utmost. I myself have benefitted from this very many times in my life. I don’t however value winning (and as a by-product losing) as the environ of competitive advantage. What is competition? What is it that we compete against? What is the relationship between competitiveness and individualism? I throw no stones by asking these questions but merely attempt to personify some of my own discomfort around the role of competition in society and the true role of competitive sport in a post-industrial world.

    For me tradition for tradition’s sake can be dangerous. I have frequently been in circumstances in my life where questioning the role of tradition has been condemned. Why? On one hand tradition can preserve and help us identify with our ancestral heritage but on another it can be nothing short of a form despotism, a mechanism of mind & social control where only the prevailing narrative carries weight. I have always struggled with this whether it be my mother-in-laws rigidity in how a paella (my in-laws are all Catalan-Spanish) should be prepared or the tacit acceptance that our political representation is best provided by a system that has not been reformed in almost 100 years or in the central role of athletics and competition within a sports day structure.

    I wish all possibilities were on the table. I wish that people in our society learned from a culture which valued more highly creativity and challenging customary behaviours. I wish that human imagination was not so frequently restricted by the limitations of what has gone before.

    James Simms
    Creator of


    1. As always thanks for your comment J.

      Firstly with tradition for tradition’s sake. I agree with your sentiment, which is why I have shared my approach. Hopefully to get feedback, to hear other peoples point of view and reflect on what I offer. However I naturally want to preserve some tradition. With a constantly shifting landscape it is difficult to build culture which can be a positive influence. The conversations must be about what traditions are beneficial, and if we don’t continue to do it that way, what can we replace it with that is better.

      I understand your point on something being holistic. I feel that our curriculum and extra-curricular athletics has a much more holistic approach, as does our House Competition in whole. The individual events are probably not inclusive for all, but the competition is with events covering a huge range of sports, debating, writing, drama, art, singing, music, chess and bridge. I suppose it is dependent on the message we send. If the only message we send is about winning, then in a educational establishment such as a school this becomes pointless. We need to promote taking part, being part of something bigger than yourself (such as your house and school) and trying to put the something other than your own self-interest first.


  2. I never know how to start, what is your name..? 🙂
    Sporticus, T&F days are so interesting aren’t they? I have been to schools that offer the same day you write about here and then the polar approach where we are working in teams in adventure challenge type situations and all inbetween. I guess the important focus for me is what is the student learning? and do you have majority buy-in from the student body to the learning happening at your day? I know you are looking more broadly at the leadership and other community factors that come into play and I believe that students have ownership of their day adds to its value and the initiative, motivation, dedication and focus they have on it too. I feel the outliers are then ones we tend to watch – the high flyers who you see winning or performing at high levels and the other end of the spectrum, the students who are choosing to not participate or to stay home ‘sick’ on that day. But if you are looking at the learning and buy-in from your bell-curve students are you seeing this form of Sports Day work for them?
    You shared on Twitter that your school offers 23 opportunities to participate in House challenges in the year, so if this is one of those 23 moments to participate, i assume that outliers will shift with each of these? That everyone has a chance to be in that top band, bell curve and the bottom end? If so, then run your day the way you do – if the learning and the buy-in is working. It never hurts to overhaul and modify based on the experience, but if it works and you feel that the status quo is meeting your community learning needs, leave it.
    If you want more buy in, I suggest offer more student leadership and running of events. For participation, offer incentives to participate (ribbons for all finishes, more points for all finishes, bonus awards for House with most participants in the 1500m etc) to see if you can gain momentum? You could also add ‘fun’ events in the day to add to your participation. I did wonder if you had a full day at the Athletic track and participated in 2 events, what did you do for the rest of the day? Do you give out prizes or awards for best dressed teams? mascots? banners? Walk on (like at the Olympics, a Walk on for all in the House with costumes etc)? How do you keep everyone involved in the day?
    Thanks for sharing.


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