It seems to me that the word "competitive" is getting a bum rap in today's school systems and sports programs.
When I was growing up in primary school, there were awards for top marks and effort -- there was the most improved student, the award for highest achievement, the athlete of the year and sportswoman of the year.
In everything that I did in school, there were ways of measuring success and, yes, competing against one another. In our fitness programs we could win bronze, silver, gold or the award of excellence. There were many ways to show excellence and many ways to be rewarded for it.
This is not to say that every kid in school won an award. No, we had to work hard for it.
"Competition is part of life. It is not something to be feared and avoided, it is something to be embraced."
Today, most schools have moved away from awards like most improved student, highest academic standing and athlete of the year. When I enquired about the lack of awards in my children's primary school, I was told that the idea was to make all children feel special, and to not single out any one child.
When I shared this with my daughter, she rolled her eyes and said, "Mom everybody knows who the best student is." She then told me she thought it was disappointing that there weren't more awards and recognitions.
My own viewpoint is clear. I think we should celebrate excellence often and in a variety of ways. If I had my druthers, every school and grade would have student of the year and most improved student. Every team would have a leadership award and an excellence award, every club would have a way of recognizing outstanding effort.
I think competition is good for us, and is critical to helping us find performances that we didn't know we had.
Sometimes I feel we have become so sensitive about not leaving anybody feeling left out that we have all but obliterated competition in our schools, and to a large degree in our workplaces. Nobody gets recognized, and actually nobody feels special.
Kids will find other ways to compete -- about who is prettiest, who has the best jeans or sneakers, who is the most popular. By creating situations in our schools that are competitive, we can help our kids navigate a competitive world. We assist them in handling disappointment and losing with grace.
My children did the kinds of sports where the first person over the finish line wins: track, cross-country and now rowing. Both my kids were reduced to tears at times when they were beaten. One year my daughter was so upset at being outsprinted at the end of a two-kilometre race that she literally doubled over in tears and hysterics, and it took her half and hour to finally gain the composure to shake the hand of the winner.
This is tough stuff, and as her mom, it was heart wrenching to witness her disappointment. I knew, though, that these were the moments that I had no right to control or micro-manage. She had to feel the disappointment and decide what to do with it. Several years later she has become a good athlete and an excellent student. I know her own competitive instincts have been a huge asset in helping her achieve.
Competition is part of life. It is not something to be feared and avoided, it is something to be embraced. It could be the very thing you need to move you to the next level of achievement.
I didn't always like that there were people better than me in rowing; however, I know it is these very people that inspire me and push me to get more out of myself, to drive a little harder, to dream a little bigger. I owe a debt of gratitude to people who are better than me. They inspire me and help me push my own limits.
We need to understand the important role competition plays in helping our kids, and each one of us, to discover our true abilities and potential. Our parents always told us to "do your best." This isn't a prescription for mediocracy, doing your best is the most difficult thing of all, and happens in all likelihood when we are in the final stretch and someone is one step ahead of us and another person is breathing down our neck.
Three Ways to Encourage Healthy Competition in your kids
1. Play competitive games and sport with them.
Let them win, but let them lose as well. There are lessons in both.
2. Give your kids awards for their performance in school and sports.
My son's first goal earned him a snazzy new water bottle, my daughter is awarded $50 for each A on her report card.
3. Support your kids through the disappointment of losing.
Let them tell you how they are feeling. They may be thrilled with their 21st place ribbon. If they are gutted by a performance, the best thing you can do is just listen and let them know they are loved and respected regardless of their results.
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