To compete or not compete

Published – December 13, 2017


Mid-Monday morning and I am swimming in the usual weekend updates on our district’s youth and their weekend activities, much of which is their competitive achievements, including my own skaters, some of who attended their first official figure skating competition this weekend.

I am asked often about whether attending competitive events is important for youth, especially when it costs so much to attend and when we live in a culture where we go out of our way to ensure that self-esteem in our youngsters is preserved.

At the risk of sounding like every commencement speech delivered at an end of year sports assembly the definition of competition is a rivalry for supremacy, or a contest for some prize.

Proponents against competitive scenarios will note that the situations provide pressure for kids to be the best and leaves kids with feelings of disappointment if they don’t measure up. To this I say that competition is not good or bad, it’s a natural occurrence in life. As adults we face this every day – attempting to be accepted to our first choice in post-secondary, seeking a promotion, buying a house, maneuvering our company to the top, and in some cases, winning or losing the love of our lives.

How we think about, and cope with, the stresses and pressure associated with this, is what makes it good or bad.

Now hopefully as adults we have figured out that success is not a zero-sum game (especially those of us who were raised with a clear winner and loser right since T-ball) – there is plenty of room in the sea for more than one person, product or company to be considered successful. The best is often subjective rather than objective, which is where I think the drive to keep our children from having to experience loss, and instead focus on a culture of success for all, has been derived from. However, are we doing them a disservice when everyone gets a participation trophy?

When it comes to athletics, the form in which competition takes depends on your sport and should depend on the age and maturity of the athlete and it is up to us as adults to build a framework where competitive spirit is taught in a way that children learn to be respectful of their competition and to handle setbacks in a way that they become learning experiences.

Competitive events, be it a performance or a championship game, can encourage one to perform at a higher level and drive to learn at a faster rate. It teaches how to manage nerves, take risks, helps with goal setting. It offers up a network of peers and can provide opportunity to travel. It teaches commitment to an end goal and will build self-esteem.

Because when the children of sport now are invited to their alumni end of season banquets you want them to have a great story of competitive prowess and working to defy the odds to be the best that they could be or a tale of resiliency and earned life lessons.

Either will inspire the next generation to strive find the best in themselves.


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