Sports day

Let me press a plastic cup of flat lemonade into your hand and insist that you buy a raffle ticket, because it's school sports day season here in the UK; that notable occasion when we come together with our fellow parents to shiver at the side of an impromptu track on whatever grassy area our child's school can find, bellowing encouragement and definitely not being irritated at all by the long-legged eleven year old who wins everything going.

Oddly, not everyone thinks fondly of this marvellous British institution (when else do you get to see your child's head teacher jumping up and down in a sack?) When one Mumsnet user asked recently whether she was being unreasonable to dislike them, it turned out that rather a lot of people thought she wasn't being unreasonable at all.

SOLE USE WITH THIS STORY ONLY. COPYRIGHT LAPSES 31.12.12 Prince Charles introduces his mother to his teachers and fellow students on sports day in 1957
Sports day is embarrassing for everyone, even the Queen of England (well, we imagine it is). Buckingham Palace

"Hideous exercises in public humiliation" thundered one. "I find having to avoid eye contact or conversation with other parents very draining" grumped another. There's quite a lot of angst over sports day mission creep, and the fashion for day-long events encompassing rehearsed displays, competitive races, prize-givings, picnics and lots of twirling about to music.

A fair number of Mumsnet users report slinking up late and going home early, thereby interrupting their day and upsetting their children in equal measure. Someone who had just returned home from hers reported "at least it stayed dry and it's over for another year", which could probably double up as the UK's national slogan.

One thing that most parents have an opinion on is whether their children's school has sports days that are too competitive, not competitive enough, or exactly the right amount of competitive. Personally I have some sympathy for those that want to see some winners and losers. These are races after all and as one Mumsnetter puts it, "Learning to lose is something kids need to get used to. And if sport is your thing, you should be able to shine." But that's not to say there can't be quite a lot of badges for coming 5th, 6th and 7th to encourage everyone to participate.

Kathy Griffin
Michael Caulfield/Getty Images for VH1

'If you're substantial of chest, look for brands that offer proper bra-like support; consider leaving the spaghetti straps and itsy-witsy cups to those less rich in decades and experience, and seek out some proper scaffolding. And if anyone is rude enough to question your choice, you can always tell them your doctor has told you to get more vitamin D.'

Not sure if you're too old to wear a bikini? Read Justine's Take here (pic Michael Caulfield/Getty Images for VH1).

Another mum puts it well: "I want my kids to do competitive sport. I think sports should be for all. Yes we all have different abilities. But that's the same in maths and literacy and they all still do it." But there are also those whose children seem to find it genuinely upsetting, and it's hard not to sympathise when children are made sad: "I hate that my five year old was totally deflated and upset because she didn't win," says one.

The real kicker about sports days, though, is that they seem to prompt many of us to vividly relive our own childhood experiences. If you spent all your free time as a child lying on your stomach watching Bonanza and eating sweets, the chances are your sports days were exercises in small-scale disappointment accessorised with unflattering shorts.

If you were one of those long-legged wunderkinds, they were probably sunny oases of public glory - occasions on which the cool kids in upper years suddenly learned your name. "It was always just another opportunity for me to fail... my mum understood and used to arrange dentist appointments instead" said one user, which goes to show just how bad it can be.

As a parent, the key to enjoying sports days - or at least enduring them - is probably to leave your own experience behind and focus on what's taking place in front of you, which is likely to be downright hilarious at times.

And on no account shirk the parents' races. After all showing your child how to make a fool of yourself gracefully is as important life lesson as any. As someone once (almost) said: if you can meet with plastic medals and grazed knees and treat those two imposters just the same, yours is the muddy kit bag of life and everything that's in it.

Justine Roberts is founder and chief executive of Mumsnet and Gransnet. You can find her own Twitter @Justine_Roberts, or visit the Mumsnet page @MumsnetTowers. Alternatively, for all information about Mumsnet please visit the website here.