Monday, May 10, 2010

It's how you play the game

Whatever! It's all about WINNING. Nobody likes losing. In any given competition/game, there will always be more losers than winners, so why subject our kids to this misery? I'm really torn about signing my kids up for competitive activities. Is this a good fit for them or am I just going along with what other families are doing?

It's easy to get down on competition -- it can bring out the worst in some people and create an atmosphere of gloom, dread, and even hostility. But on the plus side, competition can push you to really work as a team and give your best effort. I remember from my old vb days, digging deep and pulling it out. And those times where we didn't keep score were certainly more relaxing, but the play was lousy -- nobody tried, it was just human nature.

Proponents say that competition teaches kids to win and lose gracefully. I think this is where parents have to step in. Sadly many do not. I still remember suffering the gloating of those smug little twits at my figure skating competitions. But was it really their fault when they were told they were good at their sport because they beat everyone else? Is that what makes you good? Or can you feel good about your talent without having to test it against your peers?

What about divisiveness. As an adult I learned to have respect for my competitors. I wonder if children view their competitors as equals or as rivals. I think a lot of that has to do with the attitude of coaches and parents. You'll never catch me egging my kids on to cream the other team.... or will you? Yikes -- I suddenly have images of me doing victory dances and talking smack around my partner whenever I've managed to beat him at anything -- golf, running, video games. I guess I'm not teaching my kids how to win gracefully there :-).

What about the real world. We are forced to compete for resources and also to weather disappointment. Does competitive sport not prepare kids for this? Well, success does not mean triumphing over others. Many people can be successful in the marketplace, yet there can only be one winner in sport and chances are it will not be my child all of the time. There are plenty of disappointments in life they are learning to deal with on a daily basis -- like not getting their own way (OMG, I still have a ways to go with this one myself!)

Physical activity is not an issue now because my young children run and play all the time. However with more and more screen time creeping into our lives, I want to ensure that our kids stay active. I feel pressured to enroll them in sports now so that they can keep up with their peers. My partner still relents about how embarrassed he was being 12 in a class of 5 year olds because his parents enrolled him late for swimming lessons. Of course some competitive sports push children too hard. I know a lot of people whose knees are shot because they played too hard as kids.

It's so hard to decide between being a specialist or a generalist. Growing up, all I knew was figure skating. I feel like I missed out on a lot of team sports and other activities. Then again, I needed to practice four days a week to get any good at it. Mastering a skill can boost self confidence, especially when you've persevered. But what if my 'thing' could have been something else, had I only tried it.

Like with most external rewards, I worry that my kids will become so fixated on the prize that they lose interest on the journey. I worked on two skating programs all year round -- that's all I did. I missed out on not only learning other moves, but how to interpret music with my body -- the very best part of figure skating. I think most people would agree that 'learning for the test' is not education.

Some children take competition in stride. You can see that their self-worth is not tied to outcome. And yet others seem addicted to compeition -- anxious and desperate to please their parents. How can I ensure the former and steer my kids away from the latter?

It's about sending them the right messages -- that success is not victory and that it's more important to compete against yourself then others. I'm going to have to tread these waters lightly by balancing competitive sport with non-competitive activities we can do as a family -- biking, running, swimming, etc. Above all, I'll take my cues from my kids. If the activity is not enriching their lives and is creating undesirable behaviour, then it's over. But if it's their passion and they maintain a healthy attitude about it, then I'm not going to stand in their way. Alright, bring it on! (yikes)

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