Oct 012014


Girl barrel racing

Striving to be the best.


I’m a fan of collaboration and cooperation.  I’m also not crazy about our culture’s growing aversion to competition for kids.  When nobody loses nobody wins, either.

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Healthy competition is a fact of life and can be helpful to a child who is going to grow into a self-sufficient adult: if we want to teach our kids that they can influence their own outcomes, I’m not sure it’s fair to protect them from the opportunity to face challenges.  Being part of a contest can drive us to reach our potential, show us what it takes to reach the higher levels and often demonstrate we’re capable of more than we thought.

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It’s easy to find articles about adults who bring a cutthroat mentality and even violence to youth sports.  That has much more to do with power, control and vicarious living than with competition.  Competitiveness is an essential life skill, neither inherently positive or negative. That part’s on us.

It’s about striving for excellence, going after something true and noble… fair play and sportsmanship… being the best you can be… commitment, persistence, discipline, vision and focus.  The ultimate triumph is in the journey, not just the destination… it’s the striving, not just the winning…

Bob Costas on the making of great Olympians

Striving for the win will not teach kids they’ll always get it if they work hard.  They may learn that coaches, referees and even other parents are not always fair or mature. They may discover that some teammates are lazy and selfish — just like in “real life.”  While I never enjoyed the conversations sparked by that learning (or seeing my athlete unhappy) I always appreciated the opportunity to talk about the importance of understanding the behavior of others and not take it too personally.

[Tweet “Kids may discover that some teammates can be lazy & selfish: just like in “real life.””]

Sometimes our conversations about deep disappointment would morph into wonderful discussions about situations we can control versus those we cannot change.  The earlier we learn we can’t change others, the better.

Some of competition’s greatest lessons take time to uncover:

  • the  most important opponents we ever face are our own fears and the limitations we place on ourselves
  • and those who don’t compete don’t lose; they also can’t win.



  7 Responses to “When Nobody Loses”

  1. I whole-heartedly agree with you that toning down competition to make every child feel equal is doing nothing but creating a generation of mediocrity. I made this statement just yesterday to one of my son’s who was called to coach a 12-year old soccer team. “They have no basic skills,” he told me afterwards. The reason these kids have no skills is because in our community competition is dumbed down. “Don’t want anyone to feel bad,” the league officials say. What that means is that North Carolina won’t be sending any kids to the World Cup for sure. Can parents go overboard? Yes, they can! However, life is about honing one’s skills and abilities through education and experience. We need to teach our children how to be their very best by working hard and pushing their limits. Do do anything less does nothing to prepare them for the future. Whew, where did THAT soapbox come from? 🙂

    • I think what bothers me the most is that kids trust us. When, as adults, we try to pretend that everyone is the same we lose the ability to model unconditional respect and appreciation for differences. To me, that seems a more honest and helpful way to help kids “not feel bad” than to pretend everyone has the same strengths.

      Thanks for checking in!

  2. So great to read this this morning! I was raised playing high level sports, very competitive, and I do believe in many ways it developed me into who I am today. Focused, hard-working, assertive. I think there is a balance though – my inner perfectionist and extremely high self-expectations were not something that anyone could recognize at the time, so the high level of competition made me retreat inwards without tools to cope with the stress of what was expected of me and what I expected of myself. I only realized all of this later after I had walked away from competition of any kind – swinging the pendulum. Thanks for giving me a chance to reflect back 🙂

  3. I used to coach youth soccer. I remember coaching a co-ed team of 12-14 year olds when I lived in Germany. I had a mixed bag of talent, some really good soccer players and some who had never played soccer. We lost every single game until the last game. I got yelled at by parents. “My son has never played on a losing team, ever!!”

    “Well,” I said, “please come to practice and help me coach these kids.”

    Another parent said to me, “he’s always been on a winning team, but he’s never had this much fun playing soccer.”

    I’ll take that!

    Now…the last game we played was against the team with no losses for the season. They were #1. My “kids” were like “whatever.” They played their hearts out and we TIED the best team in the league.

    As far as my kids were concerned, they summited Mt. Everest.

    Competition is good. In martial arts we have a saying (gosh, I wish I knew this when I was coaching soccer!) “Either you win or you learn.”


    • Nailed it! (of course, lol) “Your kids” valued a real achievement. I think we really underestimate our kids’ understanding of these things. I remember one of those “we’re not keeping score” Little League games so many years ago. While taking kids home after I learned they knew exactly how many runs, hits and errors… and probably could have filled out a major league-quality sheet.

  4. I come from a family who goes overboard. My brother was pushed so hard in football that he gave himself 11 concussions and ultimately hurt his knees so bad he couldn’t play anymore. My family would scream at coaches and referees, and push push push. Yep, those people! Sometimes I find myself getting like that with my 4 yr old. She is reading at a 2nd grade level, excelling at 2 sports, is learning 2 languages(her teacher just told me she is one of het top students in the dc area), and has other talents I want her to nurture. It is hard for me to find a balance between being her best cheerleader and the builder of the invisible wall of expectations. I teach her about “win or learn” and try to step back and let her coaches do their thing without complaining 🙂 But, she really wants a trophy and I hope she gets one! Thanks for listening to me go off there, the previous commentor isn’t the only one you got ryled up today lol 🙂

    • I LOVE riled up — makes me want to write more! I think your comment speaks to a very important aspect of ALL learning: that willingness to experiment until we master a new task or attitude. You seem to be questioning both ends of the “pendulum swing” and I applaud you for that… and for looking for the balance. (And that part gets tricky ’cause they just keep growing and changing ~ lol).

      Thanks for your thoughtful and honest comment.

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