As a city tennis instructor for four years, I always have a few memorable characters in my classes. The phrase “kids say the darndest things” is more than a little true. However, after one particular class, I felt like the phrase was more than applicable to one of the children’s mothers.
The tennis classes are for children ages 3 to 14, and we have a mixture of games, lessons on the basics and other fun tennis-related activities. One day, a mother approached me after a class and informed me that she signed up her 9-year-old daughter for tennis because she didn’t think it was a competitive sport. This was important because her son and daughter didn’t compete in anything. They didn’t play board games, and the concept of losing was unheard of in their household.
Shocked, I explained to her that many of our games involved competition, and tennis is a sport like any other – there are clear-cut winners and losers. She reassured me that her daughter could simply sit out if things got competitive. This turned out to be necessary because even a simple game of tag could provoke a temper tantrum or bring her daughter to tears.
I couldn’t believe that there are parents out there that wouldn’t teach their child the basic concept of competition. Life naturally results in winners and losers and pretending life doesn’t include losses isn’t doing a child any favors. Their daughter will eventually have to experience losing, either in something in the short-term like a spelling bee or a job interview in the future.
At St.Thomas, students often compete for the same internships and opportunities in clubs and organizations.This pursuit of excellence often brings out our competitive natures, and our personalities and confidence contribute to this.
This interaction with a concerned mother made me realize just how much of a “participation ribbon” society we’ve become. We tell our children we are all winners and pretend that equality is the only possible outcome.
This was reinforced for me as a child when I played slow-pitch softball. During our games the score was hardly mentioned, and everyone received ribbons or trophies at the conclusion of the season.
Competition can be beneficial and should be just another lesson children learn, like cooperation and sharing.
According to an article published by the North Carolina Cooperation Extension Service titled “Children and Competition,” competition is good for children in moderation, but extreme competition is detrimental. Also, it has little meaning for children who are under 7-years-old, but around this age they can begin to understand the concept of winning.
The article also credited a child’s temperament and talent as contributing to their competitive nature.
I think a negative mindset toward competition will hinder a generation that will have to apply to colleges or for internships because denial is a possibility. Unlike Charlie Sheen, we can’t always be ‘winning.’
In moderation, reinforcing healthy competition for children will bring long-term value. Therefore, a mother’s protection for her daughter’s emotions after losing a game of tennis may not prepare her to handle larger failures in life.
Kelsey Broadwell can be reached at email@example.com.