There are so many wonderful life lessons that arise from athletic competition, but teaching kids when to turn their competitive drive on and off is an important part of having an emotionally balanced physically active child. We cannot pretend that competition is not part of human life. We compete for lovers, jobs, grades, and resources... Life is therefore one big competition. Keeping it in perspective is what makes competition an effective life teacher rather than a life leader. Here are a few tips to teach kids about competition:
- Opt In: I know there are those out there that have decided to "opt out" of all kinds of competing and think that they're above it or over it- that not acknowledging competition brings peace. It does if you live in the woods or on an island. Stop fooling yourself and your kids. It's especially annoying from rich people... all of a sudden you're above competition? How did you and your family get to where they are? Competition is real. A better method of participating is making sure that competition is as fair as humanly possible. Can others join in? Does everyone feel empowered and feel they have a fair chance to participate? Making sure everyone can play (if they so choose) is better than deciding "not to participate". In fact it's worse.
- Win With Grace: There is a lot of attack on aggression lately. It seems like we live in a vendetta era where we've taken retribution and righting the wrongs of society to the next level- dominance is seen as negative in all arenas. Dominance is excellent when coupled with GRACE. So if your kid wins or even crushes the competition, teach them to be gracious. Shake hands, don't laugh and don't show your opponent you feel sorry for them (that is just as insulting).
- Winning Isn't Everything: Pretty self explanatory, but expect the best your kid has to offer THAT DAY. Every day is different and we all have bad days. Focusing on winning puts pressure on the individual to play without integrity.
- Learn From Losing: Lessons are hidden all around us. What can we learn from a loss beyond that it sucks? Helping your child to dig deeper after losing will help them next time. It's interesting that human life is based upon overcoming hardship. We only learn when we fail. Talk about the feelings, the strategy (depending on how old they are), what they can do next time and move on.
- It's About Them: This is a hard one. We want our kids to be happy and comfortable. What if the coach doesn't play them? What if a ref calls a bad call? How parents react to disappointment and perceived injustices is key in how the child will conceptualize fairness. Take caution and use wisdom when advocating for your child during, after and before competition. What could your child learn from this "unfair" situation? Is there something that they aren't getting in practice? What can they learn on their own? Think about what your child can do first and bring that to the coach before going in to advocate.