Competition- What is the point?

Competition- What is the point?

I was recently listening to a podcast which was bemoaning the snowflake generation and the use of competition in education and sport. The basic argument was children are becoming less resilient as they are being awarded for taking part, an approach which doesn’t mirror society and prepare children for adult life. Therefore, this blog will outline what competition means to Moving Matters and why we do it. 

Part of my role is organising competitions for our partnerships schools in Lambeth and it’s definitely the best part of my job. It’s an opportunity for schools and pupils to demonstrate what they’ve learnt and play the games they love. It also provides an opportunity for pupils to test themselves in a competitive environment. 

Unfortunately, that competitive environment can evoke some negative behaviours and emotions especially when children are experiencing failure. Ultimately, this is why competition organisers will tend to award everyone for participating. This approach is understandable as there are no winners or losers which limits that negative behaviour and is more likely to retain children in sport.

The argument against this approach is that it doesn’t reflect society or the workplace which is all about winning and performing well. A common view is children will not be awarded for finishing last place when they’re older so why reward them for underperforming now. Overall, it will lead to an inability to deal with setbacks and work on themselves.

At Moving Matters, we see competition as a way of teaching children how to deal with failures and setbacks. We have a league, winners and losers as we feel it’s better for the development of the children. However, as coaches, teachers, parents and competition organisers it’s our responsibility to make sure this is done properly. 

Firstly, we need to develop the children’s mentality so they don’t treat a loss as a negative thing despite their place or performance. Losing or bad performance is a fantastic opportunity to learn and as Clive Woodward says we should see it as ‘winning or learning’. Therefore, we try to build an environment which is positive and supportive. We believe this will develop a growth mindset mentality in the children where they will view failure as less of a negative and more of an opportunity to learn. The coach and parents are key to this approach and this is made clear before every competition and in our code of conduct for coaches. It is absolutely imperative that all adults present remain positive. 

We also think it’s important to redefine winning or success. When Wladimir Klitschko lost to Anthony Joshua he quotes

‘I now understand that success does not necessarily mean achieving a set goal. Instead, success means achieving the best possible result.’

The underlying message here is winning or success is not necessarily finishing number 1, in fact, it's performing at your potential and celebrating what you’ve learnt through the process. It’s extremely important to realise this and although we reward the winners, we are more passionate about celebrating how far an individual or team has come. Therefore, we also make sure those individuals and teams are recognised and rewarded. An example of this is rewarding schools who we feel have shown the Moving Matters values. 

This makes me reflect on the journey the children go on from being selected to play for a team, training for the competition to competing on the day. Other than being physically active they are;

- increasing their knowledge of a sport

- communicating in teams

- having to problem solve in pressurised situations

- train and prepare for an event

- show leadership

- show sportsmanship

Ultimately, if the right environment is created children can learn so much from competition. Whilst it can be dangerous, results let children know what level they’re at but more importantly what they need to do to improve. The hope is this way of thinking, the growth mindset, will transfer into the classroom and help the child evolve.