Winners and losers: is competition bad for kids?
"They don’t keep score for the under-sevens, but it's pretty futile when the kids know exactly what the score is" ... Amity Dry
I’m writing this post through sleepy eyes, on a very dusty laptop, on the building site of The Block All Stars.
Yes, I may possibly be mad, but we're actually having a ball doing this huge renovation job, and I’m really glad I pushed aside my nerves and said yes to the opportunity. The kids are here with us and are loving the excitement of being part of a TV show. They're also getting very spoiled by the cast and crew, and are enjoying their holiday in Sydney with their grandparents while Mummy and Daddy work hard and look much dirtier than usual. The show goes to air early next year and is going to be a cracker, so make sure you tune in and see how we go!
The fact is that in sport, work and life in general, it sometimes does matter if you win or lose
Without giving anything away, it’s a pretty competitive environment around here, and this has got me thinking about kids and competition. Is it good to raise your kids to be competitive, or should we be focussing on the old adage ‘it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game’?
In Australia our obsession with sport and winning is well documented, yet the way we teach our kids is now much more focussed on participation, with the pressure to win played down.
My six-year-old started playing soccer this year, and, in an attempt to take the pressure off the players entirely, their club doesn’t even keep score for the under-sevens. I understand the logic, but it's pretty futile when the kids know exactly what the score is and celebrate and mourn their wins and losses accordingly.
I applaud attempts to rid sporting leagues of the parents who abuse the referees, other parents and even kids when things don’t go their way. That's the ugly side to competition and it has no place in kid’s sport.
But is it such a bad thing to raise kids who want to win? And is getting rid of the ‘best and fairest’ award, instead giving every child a medal for effort, an act of encouragement or political correctness gone too far?
Our son is naturally competitive - not through our encouragement, but most likely thanks to his genetic link to competitive parents. He gets very down on himself when he doesn’t excel in things, and, despite our insistence that it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, he cares about outcomes very much.
Like so many parents do with their own children, when playing games with him as a preschooler we let him win often enough to keep him tantrum-free. However, I questioned that after reading a study on the potential outcome of letting your child win all the time. Published in The Atlantic, the article explained how psychologists now believe children who never learn to fail can find life extremely hard as adults, often leading to an inability to cope when things don’t go their way. So by letting them experience the disappointment of loss when they're young, we're actually helping our children by preparing them for the ups and downs of life. Or perhaps just their favourite footy team losing the grand final!
The fact is that in sport, work and life in general, it sometimes does matter if you win or lose. Ultimately we live in a competitive society, and having a fire in your belly to want to win is a good thing. But I’ll also teach my kids that you learn more from your losses than you ever do your wins, and that good sportsmanship is the most important thing.
I’ll also be reminding them of the old ‘it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game’ right before a certain auction early next year. Although, I won’t lie, a win would be nice ...
What do you think - are you raising your child to have a competitive spirit? Do you agree with the 'no scoring' rule in kids sport? Have your say in the Essential Baby forums or comment below.