The Positive Power of Healthy Competition

Have you ever attended a sporting event for kids and seen “that” parent? You know the one — that parent who is excessively involved in refereeing the game and refuses to believe that the score of a five-year-old’s soccer game does not matter. The learning experience is what is most important for the children! In a matter of moments after the game concludes, kids are going to be more interested in the snacks and where the team is meeting for ice cream, not in who actually won the game. And, most likely, they will not remember the score of an elementary school soccer game years down the road. They will, however, remember who was in the stands supporting them and cheering for their success. Parents have an overwhelming responsibility to be the example for children when it comes to losing “coolly.”

With that being said, it is important that parents find different ways to provide exposure to healthy competition and challenges for their children. Whether that is through sports teams, academic groups or any other competitive organization, kids benefit from early interaction with real world circumstances. As they grow older, unfortunately, mature situations only become more difficult to navigate. Preparing children early with the confidence and determination they need teaches them to hone their skills to be the best they can be and outfits them with a complete toolkit to handle their emotions when they do not come in first place or win every competition.

Exposure to Competition Makes a Lasting Effect

Lori Payne, LPC-S and counselor in McKinney, says, “Developing children can benefit from a little healthy competition. They learn that putting in effort and trying their best with peers can be motivational, and it helps to build their self-confidence. This, of course, is dependent upon parents, teachers and coaches managing competition appropriately.” While it is great for kids to win from time to time, winning is not everything! You want children to believe that other people will judge them for their character and their positive contributions to society, not by how many times they win or lose a softball game (which is a lot of pressure). A parent’s love for their kids should always be unconditional and based on who they are, regardless of whether they win or lose. “It is important for children to learn that while it is fun to win, it is OK to lose. Our society really sends the message that one must be the absolute best or one is a complete failure. Kids pick up on this message. This results in the ‘why try?’ thinking and a complete lack of motivation. Children must learn to win and lose and to learn from both,” Ms. Payne shares.

Understanding healthy competition at a young age will help kids as they develop into young adults. Being honest with them and letting them be on both sides of the winning spectrum may help them realize that the harder they work for something, the more likely they will achieve their goal. For example, when they get older, they may need to work longer hours in order to take home a larger paycheck. When they start looking for a career, it will be in a hugely competitive environment. This instills a strong work ethic. They will have to have an edge and know that no one will automatically include them on their team or hand them a participation trophy (like they may be used to). Maybe they will have to study harder and for a longer period of time in order to graduate from college with the GPA they desire. This teaches children about the importance of preparing, challenging and disciplining themselves. They need opportunities to learn about their personal strengths and weaknesses, which will help them as adults! Eventually, they will learn that having to work hard for something makes it all worth the while in the end. “The most important factor for parents to keep in mind is to truly balance losing and winning. All humans lose sometimes, and kids learn from adults how to manage such losses. They look to us to regulate our emotions, handle our behaviors and they need our support at all times, win or lose,” Maeve O’Neill, MEd, LCDC and LPC-S in Frisco, says. “Every win-or-lose situation is an opportunity to learn, to talk about the outcome and process what happened. We can ask our kids how they think they did, what could have been done better and what they are proud of in their choices. There is great courage in trying and participating in activities. Kids need to be complimented for their courage. Compassion for themselves, others and even the losing side of any competition is also a great skill to teach kids.”

Everyday Situations Provide Learning Opportunities

Competition, whether kids realize it or not, is a big part of everyday life. Children are often faced with competition among their siblings and peers, and they face challenges when it comes to making good grades. “Learning to handle loss and disappointment is difficult, but it is a necessary part of life, as much as enjoying winning is important,” Ms. O’Neill says.

In a family environment, competition can be learned without kids ever realizing it. Ms. O’Neill says, “The best way to teach kids about healthy competition is to use everyday examples on the news, in movies, on television and in real life to point out cultural messages that create shame. Build their critical thinking by discussing the situations and build their understanding by providing ways to handle any competitive situation.” When it comes to incorporating beneficial activities for families with children, there are many simple options for parents. Ms. Payne says, “Family games at home (or out) can provide hands-on learning opportunities, whether it is a board game, a volleyball game, a cookie-making contest or miniature golf.” Keep in mind that you never want to put so much pressure on winning that your child feels like they need to cheat in order to win.

Regardless of the type of competition your children are exposed to, for the most part, it is good for them! It keeps them motivated and will help them continue to improve. Remind kids that it is not necessarily about coming out on top or winning, but it is about how they were involved, experienced growth and learned during any type of competitive situation. Bragging over a win or pouting about a defeat should not be an acceptable behavior. This can hurt their relationships and cause long-term problems.

Kids Should Get Involved at a Young Age

Luckily for families, there are groups and organizations here in Frisco that build upon principles that teach kids all they need to know about the importance of competition, in a healthy and safe way! Frisco Family YMCA is one of the many great places for families and kids to be exposed to healthy competition. Bill Markell, the vice president of operations for the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas, says, “Programs offered at the YMCA that provide an opportunity to learn about winning and losing among others include youth sports programs, teen youth and government programs, summer day camps, the after school child care program, swim team and Adventure Guides.” At Frisco Family YMCA and other YMCA locations throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, kids can learn about competition in both recreational sports leagues and competitive sports leagues. Recreational leagues do not keep league standings, the game scores are not posted and the referees are more lenient and work with kids during games. Competitive leagues do keep league standings, post scores on the website, have referees and an end-of-season tournament. When it comes to specific sports that kids can participate in to have a hands-on experience and learn about competition, the organization offers pee wee sports (ages 3 and 4), youth basketball (ages 5-12), youth flag football (ages 5-12) and youth soccer (ages 5-12). Mr. Markell says, “Competition is unavoidable and there is always going to be a winner and loser.In the proper environment, with good parents, mentors and coaches, competition can have a positive and long-lasting impact on kids. Through competition, kids can learn lifelong skills and values such as working hard to achieve goals, teamwork, commitment, discipline, respect and responsibility. Something that is equally important is for kids to realize that losing is an acceptable risk and part of the equation.”

Another organization that allows children to be exposed to different types of competition is i9 Sports. This organization offers flag football, soccer, basketball, baseball, cheerleading and multi-sport programs in Dallas, Plano, Frisco and McKinney, while keeping the focus on fun, safety, convenience and good sportsmanship. Important concepts are taught to children, including age appropriate instruction in game fundamentals and the emphasis of fair play vs. the actual score of the game. One of i9 Sports’ core principles includes teaching the natural instinct of competition. The organization thinks that the “win at all costs” mentality that is often a major drive in sports is negative for team morale and negatively impacts the self-esteem of the players. Encouraging children to express themselves and display the abilities they have is far more beneficial than winning the game every time. “Our coaches encourage kids to try their best and recognize their efforts with positive feedback,” says Anita Patel, the program director at i9 Sports. “Competition is a part of life. Kids and adults are faced with competition in day-to-day life, and ati9 Sports, we help set a foundation for healthycompetition.”

Regardless of how you want to start making healthy competition a part of your child’s life, it is important to do so. Molding well-balanced individuals at an early age will help your child understand the obstacles they encounter as they age into their teenage years and into young adulthood. Consistent reminders that you expect no more than their best effort in everything from school to sports will help encourage your child and will make a profound effect on their ability to understand winning and losing. Everyone wants their children to be well-rounded and equipped to handle all that life entails. Letting children experience the positive power of competition prepares them for the real world challenges ahead.