How Today's Society Should View Competition

Competition isn't the problem; our view of it is, one columnist writes.

Competition is becoming less and less important in today’s society. It’s common for everyone on the football field or swim team to receive a first-place trophy just for participating. Everyone's a winner and no one loses. We fear competition will create bullies who let emotions and painful words fly off the handle and into hearts. We fear we will cultivate a prideful “anything you can do, I can do better” approach to life in our children. While unhealthy competition certainly can wear on a young mind and heart with residual side effects, is eliminating competition altogether the answer?

I believe there is something incredibly powerful in competition done right. We have seen it for decades at Camp Kanakuk, the largest Christian sports camp in the nation. A day on the soccer field or at the tennis courts can provide one of the most effective tools to develop caring, kind, servant-hearted leaders. Here are a few keys to ensure competition is healthy, not harmful, when leading children.

Losing leads to growth. In every game, there has to be a winning and a losing team. Sometimes, the same is true in life. For kids to understand this, it is important for us as parents and coaches to teach them how to grow in times of loss. Teaching our kids that losing is not the end of the world will change their perspective on competition. To be successful in life, our youth need to understand that losing or making a mistake does not speak to some identity flaw or lack of ability, but rather is an opportunity to learn and grow.

Winning is not the goal. Everyone wants to win, but winning isn’t the point of playing the game. The goal of competition should be to have fun, do your best and develop good sportsmanship. Developing a dynamic leader who is unhindered by self-doubt and fear is the goal. Healthy competition is the means. If your child wins, encourage him or her to talk about what someone else on the team did well that helped him or her win. 

Let them struggle. Allowing a child to troubleshoot situations that are not working in their favor helps them develop problem-solving skills beyond the field. If a parent or coach automatically runs to a child’s rescue every time he or she needs help, it can create a dependency on others for decision-making and limit the child’s abilities to work hard and take care of themselves.

Know teachable moments. Winning and losing both create opportunities to build character in youth. After winning a game, we can teach our kids how to be humble in triumph. After losing a game, we can teach them how to deal with bitterness and defeat. It is important to help them understand why losing is a part of life. Building character comes from struggle, and that is the point of healthy competition.

Encourage your kids. It’s common for people to be against competition for fear of unhealthy ramifications, but healthy competition is a great way for us as parents and coaches to encourage our kids. Through winning, we can help them grow so when they find themselves winning in life, they are humble and grateful. Likewise, through losing, we can prepare them for when life becomes more challenging than anticipated, so they look for opportunities to grow and encourage others along the journey.

Bolster identity. Teaching our children that their identities are not dictated by how they perform will ensure that they will not get caught up in the stress of competition. If a child knows his effort over time can produce positive change and personal growth, he will not be tempted to quit at the first strikeout.

Likewise, our degree of effectiveness as parents is not based on our child’s performance. Teaching our kids the true meaning of competition and how to treat others with respect is the greatest accomplishment we can have as a parent or coach of a child in sports. Teach them what is true and meaningful, and they will succeed in the future. — Fort Worth Magazine Staff

Collin Sparks is the executive director of Kamp Ministries at Kanakuk Kamps and director of K-Kountry in the summer. Collin grew up going to Kanakuk as a kamper from Texas, worked on summer staff through college at TCU, and even met his wife, Rachel, at Kanakuk. Collin is passionate about investing and equipping the next generation to reach the world for Christ.