“I never lose; I either win or I learn.”
For many moms and dads, “competition" is thought to be a dirty word. They argue, not only does it place too much pressure on kiddos to be the best, but it also causes unnecessary stress leaving them feeling discouraged if they don't win.
So, to shield their kiddos from disappointment, many well-intentioned parents avoid competition for their kiddos altogether.
For many other moms and dads, competition is thought to be an unavoidable part of life. They argue that learning to operate in a competitive environment is a valuable skill.
So, to prepare their kiddos for the challenges they will face in adulthood, these parents encourage their kiddos to participate in sports and other competitive activities.
Competition can be good for kiddos. Healthy competitive activities help kiddos develop important coping skills that they will use well into adulthood.
Competition teaches kiddos:
- Not always the best or the brightest win, but rather, those that work hard and stick with it can win.
- Empathy, cheering for the “underdog”
- Goal setting
- How to come back from disappointments
- Teamwork, cooperation, and a sense of community
- To thrive under pressure
- How to view self-esteem
- To finish what you start
Competition can also be bad for kiddos. Unhealthy competitive activities promote negative influences on kiddos that will stick with them into adulthood.
Competition can drive some kiddos:
- To develop a “quitter’s” attitude,
"If I can't win, why bother trying”
- To be traumatized by losing
- To experience a high degree of anxiety
- To feel animosity when compared to siblings and others
- To perform far worse under pressure
- To be frustrated
- To view effort as only important when there is a reward
- To develop poor self-esteem
Competition can be downright ugly for kiddos. The need to win can spawn a willingness to do "whatever it takes." Whether in the pool, on the field, in the classroom, or wherever competition exists; obnoxious, aggressive and even dishonest behavior can exist.
Destructive competitive activities can incite ugly behaviors like:
- “Trash talking”
- Throwing tantrums
What’s a Parent to Do?
Competition is not fundamentally good, bad or ugly. However, it can have positive and negative consequences. The responsibility of parents is to help their kiddos participate in healthy competitions and to avoid unhealthy competitions. Identify Healthy and Unhealthy Competitive Activities!
If your kiddos are participating in healthy competition, they will:
- Show growing self esteem
- Want to participate in the activity again
- Demonstrate the ability to win and lose gracefully
- Want to learn new skills
- Want to better themselves
- Resist participation in the activity
- Fake an illness or injury to avoid the activity
- Outright say they don't want to participate
- Show signs of depression, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite etc.
10 Ways to Promote Healthy Competition
- Set a good example. As moms and dads, we must always display good sportsmanship in front of your kiddos.
- Experiment with different competitive activities to find the ones your kiddos enjoy.
- Reinforce the message that it's okay to lose as long as you are putting forth your best effort and learning from the experience.
- Sports first come to mind when thinking of competition, however, there are other competitive activities like chess, debate, science fairs, spelling bees, etc. that your kiddos might shine.
- Define accomplishment not just as winning the activity, but as setting a goal for something and work toward that goal.
- Plan family activities like bowling, miniature golf and game night where fun is the primary goal.
- Rejoice in your kiddos “personal bests.” See the value of celebrating even the smallest gain.
- Watch inspirational movies with your kiddos like Rudy, Cinderella, The Bad News Bears, A League of Their Own, Hoosiers, etc., that reinforce the message; “underdogs can win” with perseverance, focus, commitment, attitude, effort etc.
- Look for coaches, teachers and instructors that emphasize learning, effort, and fun along with winning.
- Seek out programs that stress healthy competition. For instance, the Wave Program at SafeSplash is a model for this type of program. Endorsed by Missy Franklin, “Wave” teaches kiddos, not to worry about how others are swimming, but just race against the clock. So, the perspective shifts from competing against other kiddos to competing against their own performance. As a result, kiddos go from experiencing failure to experiencing success.