Do children benefit from competition? Does it teach them a valuable lesson on winning or losing, and giving it your all? Or should our kids be shielded from it all and taught there is more to sports than just winning? Is competition something that is better left to the grown-ups?
It’s the Sochi Winter Olympics as you all know, and I am enthralled. It’s absolutely amazing to see these athletes do what they do best. They are shining examples of stamina, endurance, willpower and tenacity. I Googled the Winter Olympics and the first thing I saw was the medal count (go Holland!). Of course the Olympics are about competing, but that’s not all there is to it. What are the underlying values that make these games so enchanting? It got me to thinking: what about children and competitive sports?
Surely most of the athletes competing today were children themselves when they started with the sports that are now earning them medals and worldwide recognition. Some of our children will one day go on to be Olympic athletes, however the vast majority will not. I think it’s fascinating to think about competitiveness in children’s sports and what it does to them and what it is they learn from it.
There are numerous advantages to playing sports. It helps keep our kids fit and healthy. It helps develop their motor skills, balance and agility. It teaches them cooperation, teamwork, discipline and self-confidence. There are friendships to be gained, lessons to be learned about respect even for their opponents.
Sounds great, so what could one have against kids playing sports? I would say sports stop being beneficial and start being detrimental when the parents and trainers start taking it all too seriously, when the training is too rigorous and when playing sports revolves around winning and winning only.
When we keep in mind what good sportsmanship and participation can do for our kids, sports can be a key element in their development. Training as if they are on the road to the Olympics though is taking things way too far. Not only because of the risk of (lasting) injuries, but also because of the risk of emotional scarring. Children that are pushed too hard don’t necessarily go further than their peers; they can risk burn outs and a life-long aversion to sports and exercise.
I would say competition and rigorous training should wait until their early teens. Let sports be about fun, games, friendship and exercise before that time. When they are maturing and their bodies with them, they will be a lot more suitable to the competition side of sports.
Before that time, let them just be kids.