A Word on Competition
“The real winner is the teen with the healthy sense of competition”
An upward climb begins with the new school year:
Each ladder rung is a win on the football field, acceptance
to a good college or the lead role in a musical.
Competition for these and other honors ignites success for teens.
It builds self-esteem and teaches goal-setting. It motivates them physically, mentally, artistically and in so many other ways. Taken too far, however, competition fosters everything from aggressiveness to self-deprecation and failure. So how do we help our students find balance on the sports fields, in the classroom and on the stage? Here are suggestions:
What do you want your son or daughter to get out of school and extracurricular activities? How important is it to be number one? That is not to say children should not try to achieve at the highest level possible, but in a push to win, win, win, they sometimes lose the concept of fair play. For those teens who do not win, win, win, pressure can lead to self-doubt and anger.
SET ATTAINABLE GOALS
Parents can help their children set healthy expectations. These may include developing new skills, making lasting friendships, finding passion in at least one activity, and dealing positively with the emotions of winning and losing. Attainable goals could also be finding real-life meaning in their least favorite academic subject, achieving the next level in a sporting or artistic event, managing anger, or becoming more outgoing.
The most important thing parents do is show they love their children no matter what level of success is achieved. In any activity, only one person takes first place. However, all participants learn something new about themselves and develop skills that last a lifetime. Unconditional love means cheering from the sidelines (whether your kids are playing a sport or striving to get on the honor roll). It means a helping hand and positive advice. It does not mean taking out anger on others for bad calls or unfair actions "against" your child. Unconditional love also means letting teens fail sometimes.
HELP DEAL WITH FRUSTRATION
Let your son or daughter make mistakes, but do not abandon him or her emotionally. It is much easier to know how to act when people succeed. However, it is in the other moments that our children need us most. They need to see how we as adults handle frustration in our own lives. They need to know that it is okay to miss goals sometimes. They need to know that today’s blunders can almost always be fixed tomorrow, and usually the outcome is for the better.
BE A GOOD ROLE MODEL
Children get their first lessons in competition long before they become teenagers. When family members play board games or talk about their work, children are already gaining a sense of what is most important: winning or how you play the game. If you discover your emphasis leans more toward winning at any cost, it is never too late to admit this to your children and change yourself.
DISCUSS WHAT YOU SEE
Poor sportsmanship is all over national sports coverage; the message that you have to be the best, the thinnest, the smartest is at the core of most advertisements; and moral issues related to fair play are ever-present in current events. Discuss these examples with your teens. They are old enough to have an adult conversation, come to significant conclusions, and use them in guiding their daily lives.
MODELING GOOD SPORTSMANSHIP
One way parents can counteract the negative influences of the media on their teens is by modeling good sportsmanship. Here are a few tips on how to do that:
- Celebrate success, but help your teen deal with frustration by talking about it. Turn it into something constructive before it turns him or her into someone destructive.
- Point out good and poor sportsmanship at all types of sporting events. Discuss what you see and help your teen problem-solve.
- Congratulate opposing team members and coaches when a good play is made. Cheer other members of your son's or daughter’s team for achieving new levels. Never argue with a referee or coach.
- Speak positively about players, coaches, and parents from other teams and participate in area-wide events that build camaraderie throughout a league. This modeling will prevent normal team rivalries from turning into personal vendettas.
- Do not accept inappropriate behavior from your son or daughter. If the coach misses it, point it out and whether the coach does something about it or not, make sure your teen knows that he or she ultimately answers to you.