Competition in the Classroom

One thing my husband and I have anticipated since our son Gavin was born has been watching him participate in sports, and we’ve been delighted to support his love of soccer. Though we have never emphasized winning, I feel that everyone, including children, want to succeed!

A few weeks ago my son was playing a game and as he celebrated scoring a goal he was approached by the opposing team’s coach. His version of celebrating was jumping up and down and pumping his arms twice while exclaiming, “Yes!”  I did not find this overboard, but as I watched the coach kneel down to get on Gavin’s level, I saw his face turn red and he began fidgeting. I try not to be a helicopter mom so standing back while Gavin grew uncomfortable was difficult.

As he took his turn to rest and watch the rest of the team I asked him what the coach had said.  He told me the coach had said that he should only say “Yes” once because twice was bad sportsmanship. He then said, “Mom, I didn’t know there was a rule about how many times I could cheer.” I didn’t either.

As I watched Gavin’s demeanor change during that game I became sad. He no longer had the drive to compete and I couldn’t help but wonder, isn’t life full of competition? As both of my children watch sporting events on television athletes celebrate their victories. With the Olympics approaching, will athletes be restricted to celebrating their medals only once?

As a teacher I have worked with every age group from birth through sixth grade. One thing many children have in common is their drive to succeed and seek accolades from adults.  Even the smallest clap from you when a baby rolls over for the first time or a toddler takes his first steps can mean the world to them. When children see your smiling face, they will often try again. Just as Gavin had no desire to compete the rest of that game, some children in your care may lose their focus to succeed if they don’t feel encouraged.

As you observe the children in your class, try to focus your attention on a job well done and teamwork. There is no need for a sticker or a prize box; a pat on the back or a high five is just as meaningful. While it’s important for children to understand that everyone can’t win all of the time, emphasis should not be placed on winning or losing but the lessons learned in the process.