What does the word ‘competition’ bring to mind? Is all competition a good thing? How do you distinguish between helpful competition and that which may harm your child?

In this article, you’ll discover what competition is, how it can affect your child, and how to help your child choose the right kind of competition for their stage of sporting development.

Sport usually takes the form of competition, whether it’s a game of basketball or the school cross country championships, competition is the activity of striving to win something by defeating or gaining supremacy over others.

However, competition is not just about structured games and events. In fact, it transpires any time an individual or team pitches their skills against one another.

Think back to great competitions you had as a kid – where did they take place?

Competition is a social process. How a child interacts with and interprets competition depends on the biological and social changes that they are going through.

At the age of 7 children start to learn organisation skills, such as the ability to resolve disputes and work towards collective goals.

The way they experience competition is entirely different to a 15-year-old with 8 more years of cognitive development.

Competition provides feedback that we can evaluate in terms of behavioural, psychological, social outcomes and can offer a rich learning environment for kids to express and develop physical skills and personal attributes.

Here are 5 reasons why competition is a good thing for your child:

  1. Competition embodies play.

Play is perhaps the greatest setting for learning social skills and integration.

  1. Competition is exciting.

Learning happens best when you’re excited about it. A competitive environment is perfect for developing your skills because it pushes you to always give your best.

  1. Competition fosters cooperation.

In an age of social media and growing individualism, time spent interacting and communicating with others is reducing. However, our ability to work with others to achieve a common goal is an essential skill to develop, not only in sport but in life. Competition allows children to learn patterns of social cooperation without exceeding critical limits of aggression.

  1. Competition develops emotional control.

With appropriate instruction, competition encourages children to reflect on their behaviour under emotionally intense situation and develop strong emotional intelligence, accordingly. Control and competence are correlated – when you feel in control of your emotions, your preference to work hard and take on new challenge to learn increases.

  1. Competition inspires creativity.

Time and again, to win the game, or gain the supremacy, requires thinking outside of the box. Competition urges children to challenges their status quo and try new things, which improves their creativity and problem solving skills.

On the other hand, competition can be detrimental to your child’s development when poorly executed.

Here are 5 negative effects to watch out for:   

  1. Competition harbours hostility and aggression.

A winning at all costs attitude can easily manifest into aggressive behaviours, a loss of sportsmanship, and ultimately, cheating.

  1. What’s more, some parents instigate this behaviour by trying to fulfil their need for satisfaction and success through their children.
  1. Competition leads to dropout.

When a child perceives a lack of competence, or are no longer able to satisfactory demonstrate achievements, they lose the motivation to continue and look for other activities to draw pleasure from.

  1. Competition triggers injury.

Intensity peaks during competition. When a child is underprepared physically, or is competing too much for their growing body to handle, their likelihood of injury goes up dramatically.

  1. Competition chokes performance.

Competitive experiences can be perceived as threatening. And when a child’s threat mode is activated it triggers survival emotions like fear, and anger, which fills crucial brain processing space otherwise used for high-level thinking stuff vital to performing at your best.

  1. Competition is ego deflating.

The success of one child or team causes the failure of another. This is more likely to happen when success is measured solely on the competition outcome.

Because competition can deliver both positive and negative experiences (depending on the environment or situation) to your child, the question is: how can you help your child choose the best available options?

I recommend considering three important criteria:

  1. Great competition happens at, or just above, your child’s ability level.

We are at our best when in pursuit of a great goal or challenge, one that is just outside our reach and excites us to reach inside ourselves and grow. Competition that is too easy is boring and causes motivation to suffer, while a competitive challenge well outside our reach can be overwhelming.

  1. Great competition is focused.

It’s easy to think more is better when it comes to competition – more people, more teams, more opportunity. However, often the best competition is selective, involving an opponent or adversary that challenges you in a way that reveals your strengths, grows your weaknesses, and inspires you to bring your ‘A-game’ every time you turn up.

  1. Great competition emphasises the process, not the result.

The competitive environment is critical. Choose environments that focus on self-reflection and mastery rather than winning, expert assistance rather than instruction, and inquisition rather than close-mindedness.

To sum up, competitive environments are a big part of the sporting experience, yet they can impact development in both positive and negative ways.

Therefore, it’s important to think carefully about the type of competition your child participates in.

 

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Craig’s passion is helping athletes become the best that they can be. In February 2014, Craig completed his PhD, with a focus on athlete development, at AUT University and has lead Athlete Development since 2010. In that time he has seen the programme grow from strength to strength.

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