This is probably the area of parenting on which the views of myself and my wife differ the most – the need of encouraging our kids to be competitive. I am all for it, and she is strongly against it.
I myself have always been very competitive in pretty much everything I do, especially when it comes to anything physical. When I was younger I was very sporty and active, being involved in more or less every school sports team from the age of 8 until I was 16, playing for local football teams outside of school and being surprisingly good at athletics despite my skinny, weak looking build.
Being “the best” at things was always an aim of mine, and I started as the best at nothing. However my competitive streak helped me become the best footballer in each of my classes and youth teams, and coupled with my determination it helped me get close to, and eventually break long standing high school cross country running records that were previously set by Paul Evans, who later become an Olympic marathon runner (and Chicago marathon winner). Had I not of been competitive in mind, I believe I would have achieved none of the above.
In football I would become frustrated, angry and aggressive when my teams were losing, and even left the pitch in tears after losing in a Cup final. I refused to take home the Runners Up trophy I was handed simply because it was a Runners Up trophy. As a Dad looking back, I now think that I had crossed a line that day. Instead of simply trying my best to win, and wanting to win, I now see I had become a bad loser too which had never been an issue before.
Getting the balance right isn’t simple when it comes to encouraging my kids to be competitive and to aspire to achieve things both physically and mentally, but I think that without that encouragement they may learn to just ‘settle’ for whatever comes their way.
When our two daughters were young I often jokingly (well, half jokingly) said things like “it’s not the taking part that counts, it’s the winning” and it seemed to inadvertently register in their minds. At times they would get upset when they didn’t win simple things, like being first to the front door when we arrived home from days out, silly stuff. Part of me thought “oops, what have I done?” but another part of me – probably the competitive part – saw it as a good thing. My girls were showing that they wanted to get their first, they wanted to win, they wanted to achieve and when they didn’t they weren’t happy about it. The tricky part for me is to turn feeling unhappy about it into feeling determined to do better next time instead.
My youngest daughter LA recently had her sports day. LA has never come across as being very sporty to me, and I didn’t want her to get upset if she struggled in the races so just for giggles I got some toy eggs and some wooden spoons and we all had a few fun Egg & Spoon races from the living room to the bathroom and back again! The girls loved it.
A couple of days later I was at work (as I couldn’t get the day off to be there) and I received a text message from Mummy – Lacey had won the Egg & Spoon race! I was stunned, and so very proud – I know it’s such a little, unimportant thing in the eyes of probably most parents but to me, my daughter had just proved herself as the best at something and I knew that just like me, she would be feeling so pleased with herself. I was delighted.
A competitive attitude can also be applied to learning in school and not just to physical activities, and now is the time to drill it into children as the government have announced plans to ‘rank’ our kids when they reach age 11. They claim it will “inspire achievement” and “reward parents” who work hard on educating their kids at home – which for me is where they learn the most anyway. If you receive a letter saying your 11 year old has a low rank, will your child feel demoralised, or determined to improve? Without a competitive streak I believe it will simply demoralise them – and in turn perhaps send them on a further downward spiral.