It’s in our nature to compete.
We do it all the time in a variety of ways: sports, jobs, reaching personal goals… the list goes on.
As a child did you ever say to your friend:
“I bet I can beat you to the end of the road”
“let’s see who can jump the most with a skipping rope”?
We do these things to test ourselves and others but also to compare ourselves and try to reach new goals and set new standards for ourselves.
Can Competition be taken too far and be damaging?
Of course, but you could say that about anything…
If you breath too much you’ll pass out, but I think it’s safe to say we all need to do that!
It’s important to look at children holistically and evaluate what their individual needs are, but generally speaking….
Healthy competition is good for us and here are #10 reasons I believe it to be so…
#1 – Reach their full potential
When competing in play children are given the drive they need to try their best and up their game to prove themselves to their peers.
Everyone likes to feel valued and be praised for their achievements, and when competing with other children this is one of the motivating factors.
The competition could also be with themselves.
I used to go swimming every week and I would try to do extra lengths of the pool each time I went. I did this to push myself and just to see if I could. I was trying to test my limits and find out what I was capable of.
This competition with myself got to the point where I was well over 120 lengths (I can’t remember exactly how many I got up to), and the issue wasn’t that I couldn’t do any more (even though I was getting close) but that I didn’t have the time.
If I had thought about it further I could have changed the competition and made it so that I wasn’t focused on how many lengths I could casually do, but how many I could do in an hour and try to beat that each time.
But that competition would have been over quicker I think, so that’s not as fun. And maybe I wanted to compete but not make it too difficult to the point were it’s not fun.
If you’re having fun you’re being your best self.
#2 – Confidence
This is self-explanatory. Children who seek out competition have a goal in mind and when that goal is met (they win) in whatever capacity that may be, they will get a rush of endorphins (feel good hormones).
This feeling can be mildly addictive and gives you the confidence to continue and compete more.
It also takes confidence to take a loss with grace.
If a child loses and is able to take a loss with pride and know that although this time they didn’t do as well as the winner, next time they will give it 110%…that is a very confident and self-assured person.
This confidence is developed in children through the assurance and praise of adults.
This goes without saying but, never make a child feel bad for losing.
If a child’s confidence or self-worth are damaged it’s difficult to regain and can affect them in many ways.
#3 – Learn How To Lose
It is important for children to lose so they know what it’s like and can deal with the feelings they have to deal with as a result.
There is nothing worse than playing a game with someone who quits before the end because they know or think they are going to lose.
I’m looking directly at my sister Jenny for this one. My dad taught us how to play chess when we were young, I think I was 13 and Jenny was 9. We loved playing together, but if there was a game that she knew she couldn’t win she would say “I’m don’t want to play anymore” and leave me hangin’.
This, for me, was the most frustrating thing she could do because I didn’t feel like I had properly won, despite the fact that I knew she’d only stopped playing because she was going to lose.
Another annoying way to end a game or competition was if someone playing got really angry and stormed off because they couldn’t handle the fact that they hadn’t won.
As an adult I realize this was a learning experience for them and that you have to get use to something before you are comfortable with it.
However, when you’re a child you don’t see that this is just a child who doesn’t have any siblings and therefore hasn’t had as many experiences at losing as you have.
You just see a cry baby who needs to get over themselves and is ruining the happy atmosphere.
#4 – Learn Empathy
When a child has had experience losing, they are more comfortable, taking it in their stride or even feeling happy for the person who won; because they deserved it or they realise it’s luck and ‘you can’t win ‘em all’…
Children can also learn empathy toward those who haven’t yet reached this stage.
They could take this empathy and attempt to reason with other children, explaining that it’s ok to lose.
The playing, competition and having fun is the best part, not who wins.
Or, like in my example above, you can be like me and just get annoyed and then learn later why they reacted like they did.
This is fine too, we are just learning on our own path with each experience and interaction we face.
#5 – Social Interaction
It’s true that you can compete with yourself of the past, in fact this is my favourite kind (see #10), but when you think of competition it’s usually you competing with another person or other people.
For children competitive play can also be a fantastic social interaction in which they have to learn how to interact with people in an appropriate and supportive manner.
Good sportsmanship is priceless.
When playing with others to win a medal or certificate, supporting your fellow team members and being gracious when you lose could be the difference between being on the team or not.
Through competitive play children can learn what acceptable behaviour is and what isn’t.
#6 – Teamwork And Leadership Skills
Some sports require a team leader and when a child takes on this role and gives roles to their fellow team mates; they will acquire a set of skills in leadership.
A good gift to have.
A good leader is a person who acts in such a way that all his peers do their best for the good of the team and work well together.
This is seen most commonly in football.
If the team doesn’t cooperate with each other and work together, they are not going to win the match, it’s that simple.
#7 – Cognitive Development
If a child is competing in a spelling bee or a mathematics quiz they will probably be studying extra hard, with extra focus.
Through this focus and desire to win they will take in more information than if they were not competing.
This gives the child drive.
However there are also studies that show stress in children can result in them underperforming!
It is important that competitive play is always freely chosen by the child and that they don’t feel it is expected of them.
Competing should be fun and self motivated!
#8 – Physical Development
So much of competitive play is based on sports, so a child’s physical development is bound to be positively affected.
Keeping them nice and healthy and out of breath!
This being said, don’t think that it’s only gross motor skills, it could also be fine motor skills.
If a child enters an art competition they may work very hard on their drawing and master the tripod grip or master pencil control in a way that they hadn’t yet quite been able to.
#9 – Stop Fear Of Failure
Children will have to compete their whole lives for different things.
This ties in very closely with #3 but I think it’s different enough to have its own section. Let me explain why…
Being afraid of failure can prevent you from seeking out or allowing yourself to have new and valuable experiences, during both group and individual play, because this is intrinsically determined.
If I child has experienced failure and not dealt with their emotions very well, they may then be afraid of competing again because they don’t want to have that feeling back.
Fortunately because competing is so integral in our culture children will be in situations where they have to compete again and they will hopefully (and usually will) get over this fear and learn how to deal with what they see as ‘failure’ and therefore not be afraid to compete in the future.
failure isn’t failure, failure is learning.
#10 – Competing With Yourself
The most rewarding competition in many ways is the one with yourself.
This type of competition is less stressful for a child because they don’t have to lose face and the only thing that matters is that they improve, not the amount of time or attempts it took to get there.
Children compete with themselves all the time, this is how they learn and get better.
They try and try and try again until they can do it and when they can, they try again to see if they can get better.
It is this human skill that has meant that we have progressed technology and science.
This begins in childhood.
We all want to improve and when you are a child this is broad… they want to know about everything, because everything is new to them.
I believe this should and would continue into adulthood…
but we are told to choose a focus and become an expert in that field.
This has its advantages of course, and if you find something you are very passionate about you should explore it and learn as much as you can.
Although I also believe that in doing this we may be preventing people from learning about other things they may be interested in because they have to put bread on the table.
This is where hobbies comes in.
Having a hobby keeps us competing with ourselves into adulthood.
It’s fun and we strive to get better, which is exactly what competition should be all about.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post, please share it with like-minded people and ask any questions you may have in the comments.
This past week I have been in Siem Reap, Cambodia, So much playing went down!
I went on adventures, I saw tombs, I was a chef for a day, I went horse riding and met some amazing people!
To say the least!
How did you play today?