My seven-year-old daughter is a bookish little bluestocking in a society that loves sport. Like her mother, M just doesn't have much ability for things sporty.
M first discovered her lack of sporting ability when she was five and had just started school. She came last in her first school race and was dismayed. She was reading a book about the nervous system at the time, and she described the race thus: 'I made my brain tell my legs to go faster - but my legs wouldn't listen!'.
Time hasn't improved matters much. M continues to come last and continues to get sad. And because the school cross country is next week, every school day means another run, and another experience of failure. I feel so sad for her. I was pretty useless at cross country myself - but I always took comfort in the fact I wasn't worst of all. To my relief, that ignominy belonged to another geeky kid.
M and I have discussed this a few times. We talk about how people have different talents, and cross country gives those kids who are good runners a chance to show their abilities. M is fine with other people winning. She just doesn't want to be last. And sadly, the rather public embarrassment of always being last has taken any possible enjoyment out of running for her.
I don't have much right to feel sorry for myself here. My daughter does well academically: some kids spend every day of their school lives struggling and discouraged. It's those kids, and their parents, that I really feel for.
But what I wonder is this: is it possible to recognise and encourage kids who are good at sport without making those who aren't so good feel stink?