Sports are more than just fun and games. Striving to win builds confidence, cooperation, concentration, coordination, and creativity. Or at least that’s what you’ve heard. But is that really the case?
Isn’t Competition Bad for Kids?
“Competition” is a dirty word for some parents. Not only does it put too much pressure on children to be their best, they say, but if they do not measure up, it can also cause undue stress and leave kids feeling frustrated. Many well-meaning moms and dads either declare everybody a winner or avoid competitive situations altogether to protect kids from disappointment.
But is a shelf full of trophies for participation really the answer? Not necessarily. Experts in child development point out that for children, a little healthy competition can be good. In addition to setting them up for wins and defeats later in life, competitive experiences will help them develop valuable skills that they will use well into adulthood, such as taking turns, practicing empathy, and tenacity.
Here’s a closer look at some of the benefits of healthy competition – like that offered in gymnastics – for kids of all ages.
Competition Teaches Children to Take Risks.
Once they realize that competition is not a scary thing, they can take risks. Not rash physical risks, but ‘risk’ as in testing the boundaries of what they are capable of. They can develop the confidence to do things that are initially out of their comfort zone.
Competition Can Build Self-Esteem
Self-esteem cannot be handed to kids; they have to earn it. Competition is one way kids gain self-esteem.
Professor Margaret Talbot, President of the International Council for Sport Science and Physical Education, once wrote that sports, dance and other challenging physical activities are distinctively powerful ways of helping young people learn to ‘be themselves’.
She suggested that these sorts of activities – when they are appropriately presented – can teach kids to question limiting presumptions they might have picked up, and come to view themselves and their potential in a new way.
Competition Teaches Commitment
Children will learn how to commit to important events by being involved in sports through things like weekly training schedules. Organized sports teach kids how to be disciplined during practice, how to focus on the task, and how to have patience.
Competition Teaches Life Balance
Children playing sports also have to learn how to achieve balance between their schoolwork and athletics, which promotes a strong work ethic both on and off the court. Learning how to work as part of a team is an important skill for everyday life and a sports team is a great way to learn.
Competition Helps Kids Perform Better in School
Researchers have found that physical activity increases brain activity. When your child goes to school, this can translate into better test results. Kids who participate in team sports are also more likely to be active, hardworking students, and better future workers.
How to Encourage Healthy Competition
Falling short of winning the top prize isn’t easy for anyone, but as a parent you have the power to help your kids think positively about competition, even when things don’t go to plan.
For starters, it helps to define accomplishment not just as winning the activity, but as setting a goal for something they put their minds to and accomplish. Try to be there to support your kids through their challenges and regularly reinforce the message that it’s okay to lose as long as they are putting forth an effort and learning from the experience, Modeling good behavior (read: no blaming the judges afterward) is also a powerful tool.