Competition

A typical youth soccer game.
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This past weekend, Geeky Girl tried out for an upper level soccer team.  Although I’ve asked every year if she’s wanted to try out, she’s turned it down and I’ve been secretly glad because being on the team is as much work for the parents as it is for the player.  This year, I didn’t ask, but she did.  And so, we let her try out.  Mr. Geeky took her and when he came back, his first comment was, “I don’t like this.  It seems icky.”  And then, yesterday, she tried out for middle school chorus.  She’s starting to put herself up for evaluation for talents other than school work.  I don’t feel as icky about it as Mr. Geeky does.  In my opinion, if you can help your child maintain confidence, even in the face of failing to make a team (or a play or whatever), that’s a good thing.  If our kids want to compete, they’re going to have to get used to the ickiness of being judged.  They’ll have to learn to do their best without thinking too much about other people’s expectations.  Competition can push them in that direction.

Mr. Geeky often complains that some (very few, actually) of the women he ends up with in his classes shy away from competition.  Although his approach is cooperation over competition, he knows that in a field like computer science, you have to have the confidence to push your ideas past a lot of the guys.  So it actually surprised me a little that he was for Geeky Girl competing in a sport she likes.  Okay, some of the parents are hoping their kids will make the USA Women’s team or get a scholarship and therefore push their kids, maybe too hard.  But we don’t have to be those parents.  A little competition is good thing, right?

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6 Replies to “Competition”

  1. I agree, a little competition is a good thing. We went to a donor function for our school last week, in which an alum said that they “learn to compete without being competitive.” It’s a random phrase, but I interpret it to mean the good kind of competing, where you try to do your best, and yes, try to beat the other other, but without putting the other other down, and keeping the fairness of competition in mind. It’s running your hardest (and we know you can run harder when there’s someone else running next to you), without trying to trip the other person up.

    My daughter auditioned for a part for the first time this spring. She didn’t get cast (and frankly, I’ve been more disappointed than she has, suggesting that she’s a better woman than I am :-). She, on the other hand, has focused on the positives — she prepped her own audition, chose her own part, and did a good job, and had a good time.

    The problem with competition is dealing with the others who *are* competitive (instead of just competing). And it’s easy to take yourself out of the competition to avoid them, but as you point out for Mr. Geeky’s experience with girls in his classes, doing that creates a lot of loss, too.

  2. Yes, a little competition is a good thing.

    And another thing–the presence and involvement of parents like you and Mr. Geeky, who maintain a balanced and philosophical perspective on competition, scan have a powerful moderating influence on the parental culture surrounding the activities in question–for the benefit of all the children involved and the surrounding community as well.

  3. This topic has been on my mind a bit lately, too. We started Madigan in tae kwon do earlier this spring (she requested it after going to a birthday party at the studio), and I’m already amazed at how competitive it seems just in a class of four and five-year-olds.

    It’s not so much competition among the kids at this age and in this sport (although there is some of that), but there is definitely this undercurrent of “pressure/performace” which I think sometimes gets in the way of the “fun.”

    Maddy is too young to really sense it, I think, and I’m having to keep myself in check. I hate to admit it but it’s hard to be the parent in the room whose kid is the only one who is not concentrating, is goofing off, and is, oh, having a GREAT TIME!

    She insisted she wanted to keep going with it so we’ve committed to three more months, but I just hope it stays fun for her.

    I know I take a lot of baggage to these situations because I was so NOT the athletic kid, and I had plenty of little league coaches and grade school P.E. teachers who made me feel inadequate, clumsy, uncool, and lazy. Now, as I watch Madigan begin this journey I have to wonder how much of that is a result of the way in which the typical (competitive) “coaching” mentality resonates with particular kinds of (non-competitive) kids.

    I’d be interested in hearing how you think all of this played out for your kids from when they were younger to where they are now.

  4. When I was in grad school in the 1990s, AAAS Science published a cover article about women in science. They were surprised to discover that the second highest correlating factor for women who earned PhDs in science was participation in competitive athletics as a teen. #1 was the encouragement of a HS science teacher. #2 was sports, #3 was parental encouragement. Correlation is not causality.

    I credit sports for developing a work ethic. HS classes were so easy, I could slack off and only study the night before tests. Sports were hard. If I didn’t do my daily conditioning and drills, I paid for it in competition.

  5. @Martha, well, we did only soccer when the kids were younger and played on the league teams and every team had a few kids who were clearly not good at the sports thing. Interestingly, most of them are still playing, for which I commend their parents. Lacrosse was slightly more competitive. I would say that Geeky Boy really needs the competition and he thrives in it. He’s not all macho about it, though, the way some of his friends are. Instead, he’s analytical about the game, as are some of his friends. I’m actually surprised neither of the kids quit. I would have been perfectly fine with them saying, okay, I’m done with this now. So, we’re still doing sports.

    @Grace, that’s really interesting and not surprising. I think sports is like that for Geeky Boy as well. He has to work at it to be good. He is good at them, too, but I watch him practice to get better. He does not practice math or latin. 🙂

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