Competition is a part of life:
I have been giving a lot of thought recently to the subject of competition. People have strong views about whether young children should experience competitive sport. Those who favour competition always seem to justify their ideas with the “Competition is a part of life” argument. It is true that in adult life there is competition for educational opportunities, jobs, social position and sporting excellence but this does not mean that children need to become competitive in this way at a young age. We need to consider that:
Other behaviours and activities such as bullying, incompetence, intolerance, idleness and selfishness are part of the adult life too but we would not want to prepare children for adult life by giving them such negative experiences
Also there are many desirable behaviours, which can be developed in children, such as cooperative and collaborative learning, joint problem solving, goal setting and care and support for others. These do not align readily with competitiveness in a group.
Many of the games that are delivered in schools and clubs have been linked to point counting with first, second and last places for the losers. Medals and certificates are given to the “winners”. What message is this sending to children and what do they think about their own individual performances? Is this a reason why so many older children, particularly girls, opt out of sport? Also the focus on scores and points detracts from the purpose of sport and games.
Dr Kwame Brown (Click for article: Are Youth Sports Becoming Irrelevant) says that before all the testing and measuring of sport achievement by adults, games belonged to children. Games were an escape from adult control – a place where children could make friends, have fun, make decisions and be collectively creative in how they played. With tongue in cheek he says:
“Kids are under the crazy illusion that “sports” are games that they can play with their friends. If you ask kids why they participate in sports, these three reasons are consistently given;
- To have fun
- To be with friends
- To learn skills in order to have more fun
Winning is almost never in the top ten.
Dr. Brown’s strap line is “Let’s play – let kids play – let’s play with them”
Is competition appropriate for young children?
To some extent I agree that competition is a part of life; but accepting that children will be part of a competitive world in the future does not mean that we need to impose adult values of competition on them now. I also wonder whether children are really that bothered about who wins unless adults make an issue of it. My experience with JOLF has shown that young children can be introduced to competition in a way which is appropriate to their age and development.
Can children design competitions?
I have had a few interesting experiences during JOLF and my school sessions over the last few weeks. Games and activities were set up so that they could be used for competitive play and scoring. They included chipping nearest the pin, most successful shots in row, putting crazy golf holes, a Golf Parc hole, longest and straightest shot, under and over, throw and catch. Children looked through the games and then I organised them into pairs. My only instruction was to ask them to play against each other – “Come up with your own way of competing and keeping score.” I then stood back and watched.
The first thing that struck me was how they instantly began talking and discussing what to do. This I liked. What was most surprising was how much they talked. In the past I have asked them to talk about the shot they were trying to hit and then talk about what happened to that shot. Some children do this readily, some less so. But asking them to compete against each other produced some great conversations.
When playing a Golf Parc hole some of the children played it normally by counting how many shots it took them to finish in the hole whereas some used the green as a target and awarded points for missing the trees, bushes and bunkers. This led to discussions about how many they scored. Could they remember what they had scored? Were they being honest? What should the do if they go in a bunker/near a tree? Although on this activity they started off by competing against each other they soon started to try and better their previous score. Interestingly some of the children did not compete at all. They seemed happy to just “play”
I was pleased with how the children had interpreted the word “competition”. Session after session the competitions and challenges they created were all different and many were nothing like those an adult would have devised for them. This is strong evidence that the competitions we ask children to do are led by adult values and ideas of what competition should be. Observing the children create their own competitions gave me an insight into their thinking. The games were more of a social and cooperative activity than I had hoped for.
For example, many JOLF sessions include movement games and activities. A firm favourite is throw and catch, where we use rebound nets. Children work alone or as a pair. This was the one game where the children worked together to make a team score. How many could they throw and catch to each other in a row, it continually got very competitive with cheers, shouts, diving for the ball – but the competition was children trying to beat their previous personal bests, not beat the scores of other children.
The conclusions I came to are that competition is a part of life but young children do not need to experience it` as adults do. That can come later when they have a desire to compare their skills with other golfers. Meanwhile, children can be introduced to competition by designing their own. Under these circumstances competition is totally appropriate for young children.
JOLF Coach, Horsham Golf and Fitness