We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” Losing presents as many valuable lessons as does winning, and while many people know this, it is hard not to encourage our children to be the best and succeed. Whether it means scoring the winning goal for their team, crossing the finish line first during a cross country event, hitting the clock fastest during an intense chess competition, or coming home with the highest SAT score in the class, we all want to see our child win. However, everyone knows winning is not always possible.
If children are never given the opportunity to win gracefully, they may grow into adults whose behavior is similar to that of Canadian Youth Hockey Coach, Martin Tremblay, who, early this year, deliberately tripped a 13-yearold player on the opposing team in the handshake line. The player broke his wrist, and the penalty box for Coach Tremblay was a 15-day stay in jail and a year of probation.
With a new school year underway, this a good time to review good sportsmanship and the importance of competition throughout life.
Participating in good sportsmanship is as easy as obeying the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Like so many other things, parents can model this behavior at home years before any academic or athletic competition begins. When children then hit the playing field, congratulating the other team for a game well-played will be second nature to them.
As parents research teams and activities for children, it is important to spend time getting to know the coach. Will he or she teach good sportsmanship? Is the coach out to win at any expense? Does he or she display any similarities to the hockey coach previously mentioned? Coaches should set an example for good sportsmanship and help teach the lessons that come with losing. TempleMacDonald, the Athletic Director at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Warrenton, believes “100% in the healthy competitive nature of sport, but this must be done fairly while never aiming to ‘show-up’ an opponent or refuse to give credit to a worthy competitor.”
According to Rachel Sirene, a second grade teacher in FairfaxCounty, competition can be a positive force in the classroom. “Groups will be made for a review game. Students put immense pressure on teammates to contribute positively. Those who seem disinterested are often isolated once their competitive teammates realize their disinterest.” Sirene sees this as a positive example of peer pressure since the teammates who seem disinterested in competing are often isolated or excluded once their more competitive teammates realize their disinterest. It is a great example of positive peer pressure because the teams will actually want to study and review together in order to benefit the group.”
Healthy versus Unhealthy Competition
In addition to practicing good sportsmanship, it is important that children know the difference between healthy and unhealthy competition. Healthy competition puts the focus on doing one’s best and having fun. During healthy competition, children learn teamwork and positive participation. They strive to do their best, and if the outcome of healthy competition is winning, then that is simply a bonus. Healthy competition helps to instill a strong work ethic, an attribute that will serve them well as adults.
In unhealthy competition, the focus is placed on winning and being the best. In these instances, the only member of the team is oneself. While children still aim to do their best, if they end up losing, they can feel like failures and miss out on valuable lessons that could have been learned. According to MacDonald, unhealthy competition is seen even at the grade school level during winning celebrations. “Most conflicts stem from loud celebrations as the younger students do not know how to contain themselves when they have success. This creates hurt feelings for the other team.”
Competition in the Home
Competition is not only academic or athletic. Sibling rivalry can bring forth extreme displays of competition to earn a parent’s attention or affection. When one child excels in an area where another lags behind, it is easy for a competitive atmosphere to be created.
Parents need to be aware of competition among siblings and make every effort to create a supportive environment where siblings encourage each other’s strengths. Successes can then be shared among family members. This technique helps to refocus a competitive rivalry to one of encouraging cheerleading.
Competition in Life
Unfortunately, competition doesn’t end with the pomp and circumstance of graduation. Throughout life, our children will be faced with instances when they will excel and “win,” and other times when their best efforts just won’t be good enough. MacDonald suggests that children try to control their reactions and negative emotions when faced with failure to help them better cope later in life with unsuccessful job interviews, tight deadlines, and even time management.
Parents need to be honest with their children and share examples of their own failures. Children should not be raised in an environment where they believe failure never happens as this incorrect assumption only creates unrealistic expectations.
There is a wealth of opportunity to learn and grow when a child loses. MacDonald tells his students that life is not always fair. “Sometimes you don’t deserve what you receive but you must learn from failure and use unfortunate results to motivate you to succeed” says MacDonald. He also suggests that students learn more from losing than winning. When you lose, you are able to self-assess your performance and find strategies that will allow for positive outcomes in the future.
In the end, it is necessary to understand why competition is important in life as it keeps one putting forth his or her best effort, which can lead to advancements in society, especially in the workplace. However, it is also important to encourage our children to do their best regardless of whether winning is an outcome. They should focus their efforts on continuous improvement rather than the final outcome because with continuous improvement, they will always win.