Love it or hate it, we live in a competitive world. Winners and losers declared by the minute. Whether it is elections, sporting events, job promotions, scholarships and even chess matches, we live in a world that revolves around winning and losing.
If competition spurs innovation, and a healthy body leads to a healthy mind, it is our responsibility as parents to prepare our children for the competitive environment they will grow up and live in, and to inspire our kids to live up to those ideals. Not all of us have a competitive streak, but learning how to cope with healthy competition is critical to learning life skills. No one gets participation trophies in life.
Healthy adults have learned what it means to win and lose at some point in their lives, which puts parents in position to put those concepts in the proper perspective for their kids. Learning how to win with grace and lose with respect and dignity are not natural reactions for children, and they can be rare qualities in the role models around them, like Little League coaches, teammates and parents, or teachers and fellow students. You want them to learn how to handle winning and losing from you, not to merely mimic what they see on TV or hear from the fans in the stands.
Here are five points from family experts about how to foster a healthy sense of competition in your kids that will serve them well into adulthood:
Is Competition Healthy for Kids?
Child psychologists say our earliest experiences with winning and losing can go a long way toward determining who we become and how we view ourselves.
One study found that kids who are arbitrarily designated a non-winning participant perceive themselves to be “less competent and displayed less intrinsic motivation than subjects winning the competition.” It makes sense. Losing does not feel good. But whether or not direct competition has negative impacts on the psyche, it’s a part of our reality.
“Not everyone gets to be a doctor,” said Dr. John Tauer, professor of psychology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., told the New York Times. “You don’t get away from competition unless you go to a system where everybody gets to do what they want whenever they want.”
However, the negative effects of competition can definitely be mitigated. In a series of studies conducted by Tauer, he found that kids (ages 9-14) found more satisfaction in the exercise if they worked together (cooperation) opposed to working alone (direct competition).
“Kids prefer the combination of competition and cooperation. It [adds] a significant increase in enjoyment,” Tauer said.
So perhaps competition is healthier in small doses, but more importantly it’s the right kind of competition that’s best suited for your kids.
What’s good about competition?
Since competition isn’t likely going to go away anytime soon, perhaps we can start to justify the positive aspects that can come from it:
1. Opportunity for growth:
There’s nothing worse than a sore loser and competition certainly forces us to cope with defeat. Just as in the real world, it’s how we handle failure that really counts. When facing a loss, there’s nothing else you can do except say “good game” and continue your life. The alternative isn’t nearly as glamorous. The best attitude is to go back to work to improve and try again. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes you can do everything right and still lose. Better to learn those lessons young.
2. Sportsmanship and Humility:
No one likes a sore loser; and nobody likes a bragger. Whether you win or lose in any situation, you learn what it’s like to be in that position and how to deal with the opposing team in a healthy way. Showing respect for opponents, teammates, officials and the rules are part of becoming a mature and responsible adult.
3. Managing Risk-Reward Scenarios:
Youth sports and competitions provide an environment where children can learn the concepts of success and failure in a relatively consequence-free setting. That means kids can learn about the importance of strategies and risk-taking to accomplish an objective. If baseball was only about playing “small ball,” we would never have the excitement of grand slams. Most competitive sports require taking risks and offer a reward for doing so. In an increasingly competitive world, playing it safe is one of the riskiest things you can do.
4. Preparation for the “real world”:
We may have the tendency or occasional necessity to keep our kids from getting a bruised knee or ego, but those are the realities of the competitive world we live in. It’s simply not possible for everyone to get everything they want, and the earlier in life your children learn those lessons, the better prepared they will be to deal with the real world in the future.
5. Competitive Creativity:
Similar to taking calculated risks, competition forces us to concoct creative solutions to seemingly insurmountable obstacles. For instance, we may know that a traditional tactic won’t work on our opponent, so we have to step up the creative game and try something completely unexpected. The concept of teamwork also weighs heavily into this process as youngsters can learn that more can be accomplished by working together and using team strategies than by simply trying harder as individuals. Kids can learn that by everyone filling their role, a greater good can be achieved.
So we know that competition isn’t going away, and it can teach us valuable life lessons. But what can we do to make it a happy and healthy process for kids?
How to Make Competition Healthy for Your Kids
Rockin’ Jump Trampoline Park
Our first thoughts may be to think of competition isolated to specific activities like team sports, but competition occurs in almost every sphere – from rose-growing to extreme ironing.
New-concept venues like Rockin’ Jump Trampoline Park provide a safe, clean and fun outlet for your child to enjoy the spirit of competition in a pressure-free environment. Kids can get some exercise, play individual and team games, and test their limits while having a great time with others. We have a saying here at Rockin’ Jump, we like to disguise fitness and competition as fun. So when it comes to making competition as much fun as ice cream, it’s all about the right activity and how you portray it to your kids.
We’ve covered this previously when we discussed how to get a gamer kid off the couch and into the action. Making competition fun is all about increasing the motivation to compete. Here are some tips to make sure to make competition a little more fun and motivational for your kids:
- Give them structure: Kids feel safer, more secure, and confident when they are provided a proven structure with goals. Imagine putting a bunch of 6-year-olds on a soccer field and asking them to play without explaining the rules. It would be a disaster (albeit a hilarious one). Structure and timelines also give kids the opportunity to look forward to something and gives them motivation to practice.
- Give them space: Don’t push your kids too hard to compete, and don’t steal their fun by micro-managing their play. Relationships will get strained to the breaking point if your kid believes you’re not thinking about their best interest. Give them time to recoup and make them want to compete on their own.
- Know what they need: Every parent with multiple kids knows that no two kids are exactly the same, even if they’re raised the same environment. It’s best to encourage them in ways they feel most comfortable and obviously excel in. Sometimes the best competitive spirit comes forward from individual activities opposed to team sports.
- Give them incentives: There’s a reason youth sports coaches take their kids out to pizza after a big win. Most kids (and adults too), need some form of incentive in order to go all out. Sometimes the celebration is as big as the game itself as children learn to share in the glory with their teammates.
- Use reverse psychology: Sometimes a little bit of reverse psychology helps up the ante for kids. Challenge them mentally to see if they’ll bite. Even the smallest competitive spark will light up if the right buttons are pushed.
Stepping up to the proverbial plate and making sure your kids understand and want to enjoy healthy competition has to be one of the hardest tasks you’ll have as a parent. While it’s paramount to the healthy development of children to understand the concepts of competition, it’s also very important for your kids to know that your love for them is not contingent on whether they win or lose, but how they play the games.