Is Competition Killing Fun?

American gymnast dissapointed in her performance

American gymnast dissapointed in her performance

I have always been a huge advocate of team sports and fierce competition, I believe the life skills you develop in the sporting arena are critical for survival in the big wide world - teamwork, wining, losing, turning up and taking part, not to mention the commitment involved to the training, your team and yourself.


But lately I have been questioning the role of competitive programs - when are they a positive and when can they be detrimental?  It can be conflicting, because on one hand I believe competitive programs teach you very quickly that there is only one winner and in order to be that winner you need to work for it, you need dedication, commitment, and discipline, but, on the other hand, as a mother of a five year old daughter, in an increasingly competitive world, I am also wondering how much competition we actually need?  This conflict has come from my recent experiences..


SisuGirls offers non-competition activities including rock-climbing, skateboarding and running to 5 to 13 year old girls.  They are very much personal pursuits, however, every week we have at least one girl in tears, including my own daughter, because she "didn't win" and she doesn't think she is "good enough".  What follows the tears is a barrage of negative commentary - "I don't want to do this, I give up, I am not having fun" - yet, when we dig a little further and ask different questions, we actually get a totally different story - we are told "I am having fun, but I can't do it, I am not very good".  We see it week after week, a young girl who decides she doesn't want to do it anymore because it isn't going her way, she isn't winning, and this is in a non-competitive sports program - so what is happening in competitive programs?  Are girls dropping out of activities they actually enjoy because of their fear of failing, of not being the winner or on the winning team?  


I don't necessarily have an answer for this issue, I just thought it was a very interesting observation and one to be aware of as a mother.  For me, I am going to continue to encourage my daughter to take part in the activities she actually enjoys, even if she isn't very good and I am going to try and emphasis the importance of continuing to turn up and take part and to try.  But I am also looking into pursuits that aren't always competitive - ballet without the exams perhaps, or better still, like we did as kids, just let her play freely and discover the wining and losing for herself.