Kids and competition: Keeping it fun and positive

Terreece M. Clarke
Columbus Parent

Whether it's academics, sports, the arts, or a friendly game of Monopoly on the family room floor, when children become involved in competition, parents often struggle with maintaining the right amount of encouragement, motivation and involvement. Here are some ways to keep it fun and positive.

Benefits of competition

If parents do a Google search on "kids and competition" they will come up with over three million hits. Some are news stories on events and others are articles that inform about harmful competition, ways to take competition out of everyday games, how the pressure to succeed can be overwhelming, and the harmful effects of training your child like a professional athlete.

While there can be drawbacks to competition, parents should remember there are many benefits as well. Michael and Tracy Davis act as coach and assistant coach on their kids' soccer and baseball teams. They say children learn valuable life lessons through competition, such as the joy of putting forth effort, good sportsmanship, leading by example, having a positive attitude, and that being knocked down or losing is not the end of the world.

"One day [kids will learn that] teamwork and being able to work well with others could result in promotions, salary increases, etc.," Michael Davis said. "Failure to work well with a team could result in the opposite [situation]."

Temarra Love enrolled her 5-year-old son in karate so he could learn discipline and the value of sportsmanship. "You don't always have to win. Competition allows them to focus [while practicing] because they know they have [the competition] coming up," Love said.

T.J. Bell, program director of the Rick Moore Academy of Martial Arts in Columbus said competition provides children with an opportunity to apply and practice their skills alongside their peers. "They learn what they need to work on, where they can improve and what they are good at," Bell said.

Positive encouragement and involvement

No one wants to be seen as the "stage parent" and most moms never set out to be the screaming wild woman at Little League. Experts agree there are many ways parents can be involved and positively encourage their child without hindering the child's experience.

"Do not become obsessed with the outcome of the game or the child's individual performance," Tracy Davis said. "Parents should acknowledge successes and encourage children during failure. [They] should focus on the effort of the individual and the team."

Bryan Dickerson, owner of the Dickerson School of Martial Arts in Columbus, said parents should get

excited with their kids. "If you are enthusiastic, they'll stay enthusiastic as well. Participate in team activities and bring them to class without [a sigh]."

Bell agreed. He advises parents to sit down with their children at home and help them by either working on physical aspects of a sport or reading related literature with them.

When winning takes over

While it's normal for a competitor to focus on winning, a child is taking the game too seriously when he can't handle not being successful, Michael Davis said. If your child gets overly upset when he strikes out, drops a pass or misses a question, parents should talk with their child about the importance of effort versus winning.

Dr. Steven Richfield, author of The Parent Coach: A New Approach to Parenting in Today's Society, said on that "some children view the need to win as fuel to compete, so telling the child it's only a game won't work. Parents need to broaden their child's perception to avoid extreme reactions to winning or losing."

"Competition gives [kids] confidence and the opportunity to meet new friends," Dickerson said. "They'll learn as long as they have the courage to try."



Five warning signs parents are too involved:

  1. Making excuses for the child when they perform poorly.
  2. Not allowing the child to fail.
  3. Complaining about officiating.
  4. Complaining about coaching.
  5. Always lobbying the coach for more playing time.

Source: Mike and Tracy Davis, baseball and soccer coaches in Columbus.

Help for dealing with sibling competition:

  1. From "The Effects of Sibling Competition," by Dr. Sylvia Rimm, Ph.D.
  2. Avoid labeling.
  3. Prioritize education as number one.
  4. Don't try to determine which child is to blame.
  5. Don't appoint your achiever to the role of tutor for your underachiever.
  6. Don't take sides when your children put each other down.
  7. Try to build positive and cooperative relationships.
  8. Set limits for reasonable noise levels or aggressive behaviors.

Books about kids and competition:

  • Pressured Parents, Stressed-out Kids: Dealing With Competition While Raising a Successful Child, by Wendy S. Grolnick and Kathy Seal
  • So, You Want Your Kid To Be A Sports Superstar: Coaches, Trainers, Doctors, Psychologists, and Others Explain How Parents Can Help Boys/Girls Become Better Athletes, by Ken Paul Mink
  • Molding Young Athletes: How Parents and Coaches Can Positively Influence Kids in Sports, by Darrell Erickson.
  • Raising a Team Player: Teaching Kids Lasting Values on the Field, on the Court and on the Bench, by Harry Sheehy and Danny Peary

Terreece M. Clarke is a longtime writer/journalist and frequent contributor to Columbus Parent Magazine. She lives in Columbus with her husband and two daughters, ages 4 and 1.