How to run a competitive, non-competitive Inclusive holiday event

“So much winning, you’ll get tired of winning,” promised Donald Trump to his adoring supporters. The truth of his presidency may not have been quite as much winning as promised but the real truth he was speaking was clear. So clear, it seems kind of dumb to say it out loud: We live in a hyper-competitive world where ‘winning’ is is the goal. Finishing first means being celebrated and absolutely no one wants to finish last.

But let’s be fair. There is only one ‘winner’ in any event and potentially everyone else is, … what? A loser? That doesn’t even make sense.

These days we all have heard of participation awards and ‘just having a go.” We have all heard criticism of giving children awards for ‘just participating.’

But is it possible to hold a competitive event for anyone to enter that is not about lauding the elite and leaving everyone else to feel somewhat less than worthy?

I discovered an event that achieves all this. Perhaps they knew more in the olden days about how to compete, try hard and include people. Perhaps we have largely forgotten how to combine these two ingredients and bake an inclusionary plus competitive event ‘pie.’

The Williamstown Point to Point Handicap swim has been held since 1947 (at least). The slowest swimmers start first and the fastest, fittest people get handicapped heavily. No one gets left behind and everyone has a ball. The talented, fit, fast people get a challenge – to catch up and overtake if they can. The ordinary kids and not-so-fast people get a real chance to shine.

Now we have opened this event up to mums, dads, people learning to swim and anyone prepared to have a go.

This year we organised the biggest Point to Point swim in decades at Williamstown Beach. Capped at 50 swimmers, the event was booked out and people were turned away. Competitors included elite swimmers in training for the National Open Water Swimming Championships (in Queensland next weekend) and, literally, ‘learn-to-swimmers.’

Handicapping people that are so different in speed and ability is a complex exercise in mathematics. Providing safety support for everyone is also not easy.

But these issues are minor organisational hurdles in the larger scheme of the day. The victory is ordinary people being prepared to to enter, without the fear of being left behind. Many people have said to me over the years “I don’t want to be last” when I have suggesting entering some event or other.

On the day, mother and recent graduate of our learn to swim program Johanne ‘won’ the heavily handicapped Point to Point swim, from Anita and Grace.

The elite swimmers also had fun and challenged themselves but just couldn’t quite get over the line in front of the mere mortals.

Did our grandparents know more about getting people out and included in physical activity than we know today? The lesson from the Point to Point seems obvious. Participation awards and medals for ‘just being a part of it’ may or may not be a good idea, but this old-fashioned event, designed in the 1940’s and updated for the modern day, is hugely popular and could be bigger.

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