So the other day, Emilee (16) carries a very limp & teary-eyed Grace (4) into my bedroom where I’m working and says “Mom, Grace is sad.” So I stopped working and held her in my arms and asked her why she was sad. She explained, with Emilee’s help, how it bothers her that Maddy (7) always wins. She was so very sad about it, and she wanted to beat Maddy at something. So we tried to help her think of things she’s good at, so she can beat Maddy. She was amused with our suggestions, but ultimately rejected each one, including “nose picking” and “being 4″ and “jumping over floor tiles” These are things we know she’s proud of.
In the end, she came up with her own ideas, “a race” and “tying people up” and “making homemade band aids.”
Madelyn wouldn’t even compete in the tying people up category, which made Grace a winner by default. The look of joy & pride on Grace’s face when she beat Maddy at making homemade band-aids was priceless and I suspect Maddy let her win the race, when she realized what was going on.
Around here, we’re not much into competitive sports, where other people make up the rules. And we’re definitely not the types that wake up at the crack of dawn to drive the kids out to a field to play. I prefer that the kids engage in activities that encourage them to be their personal best, rather than focus on “beating others.” Plus, I’m not a fan of waking up & leaving the house that early anyway.
In principle, I’d let them participate in group sports, but in realty, it hasn’t happened. Sign-up dates have often eluded us, as this information gets sent home with kids at school. I’ve often wondered why these groups (soccer clubs, little league, etc..) don’t have more informative websites. Probably because they’re run by volunteers. I don’t make much of an effort to find out about these things because I’m not interested in attending practice 2-3 times a week or sitting in the sun or wind at 8am on a Saturday while they play. Now, if there was a drop-in way for the kids to play group sports, then we might reconsider.
Yes, competition is a natural part of life. Yes, competition is healthy and normal. No, we don’t need to invent situations where kids can experience competition. Life presents plenty of natural opportunities to experience competition, without expensive uniforms, ongoing repetitive “championship rounds” or anything like that. Rivals can (and should) be friends, always. There’s more to competition than warfare.
Arbitrary rules of competition set kids up to live by the other people’s definition of success, instead of creating their own happiness. This might work well for people who define success by keeping up with their neighbors, but around here, we have different expectations.
I also take issue with the idea that dressing kids up in one color and telling them that everyone in the other color is their opponent. It seems so contrived, so… unnecessary. I’m not impressed with the battle-cry that often accompanies such displays, where kids & parents express their intention to annihilate the other team.
I expect my kids to excel exactly as much as they wish, at whatever they choose to be a worthy exploit. I expect that they are in tune with their own inner longings, and find it easy to decide what games they’ll compete in and whether or not they intend to win, or just want to play. I trust that the activities they choose and the decisions they’re making today are part of their ultimate identity, something I would never dream of influencing or “shaping” that process, to do so would violate the principle of self-design.