The word “competition” brings to mind images of athletes or sports teams striving to do their best and working hard to accomplish significant goals. For most of us, achieving goals and enjoying life is at least partially dependent on working together and getting along with others. Many of these essential relational skills are learned in the developing years as children move from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. Given the importance of these key life skills, our society would benefit greatly by ensuring that kids are provided with ample opportunities for working together and getting along with people. Such relational skills can be effectively taught (and caught) in the context of an organized sports program.
It seems that kids are born with an innate sense of competition and a desire to win. Our society, schools, and sports programs all cater to this inclination to compete with various games and challenges. Such challenges have been a part of human society from the beginning, and this competition develops a number of important skills for use throughout life.
As an example, the desire to be the champion and top dog often pushes people further than they would choose to go on their own. This dogged determination to win is what drives Olympic athletes, CEOs, and many leaders to attain to lofty positions. However, the downside of unchecked competition is that negative traits including roughness, a domineering attitude, and unsportsmanlike conduct can develop and can take over a person. Such negative traits can be very harmful, and if not kept in check, can lead to damaged and broken relationships.
This danger for unguided winners to develop poor attitudes is precisely the reason we should encourage children to get involved in team sports programs and other organizations where healthy competition is encouraged and promoted. It is often within these organizations that essential life skills are taught and where the development of proper attitudes can be nurtured.
By participating in organized team sports, kids can begin to truly experience the thrill of winning and the pain and discouragement of defeat. By experiencing these emotions in the context of their sports community, children can begin to understand the roots of their emotions and how their emotions can affect others. In addition, parents and coaches can observe how kids react and can provide encouragement and guidance as needed when and if inappropriate behavior and reactions are observed.
Within the context of an organized sports program, a skilled coach can help and encourage the winners to revel in the victory, and yet do so in a way that does not put down the losers. In fact, if the kids on the winning team can learn how to reach out and encourage kids on the losing team, they have learned an extremely valuable lesson that will serve them well throughout their lives. In the same way, the losers must learn the essential skill of losing well and not withdrawing in self-pity or lashing out at the winners, their teammates, or their coach. Winning and losing are a continual part of life, and developing key skills to cope with victory and loss will go a long way in helping young people cope effectively with the ups and downs of life.
In developing life skills, there is a significant difference between team sports such as basketball, baseball, and soccer and individual sports such as tennis and racquetball. Individual sports typically focus on developing the competitive side of an individual, but organized sports programs can teach so much more. On a team, the children learn to work together to accomplish things that they could never do on their own. In addition, the coach can provide encouragement and direction, and the kids themselves can encourage each other when they are down. On a team, kids can also develop the confidence to try new things that they might otherwise not try. Such an encouraging and supportive environment is rarely found in an individual sport, but can be commonly found on sports teams. Out of necessity, teams learn to work together to accomplish mutual goals and such skills will help carry them through life and work.
In summary, the competition and cooperation that occurs in organized sports programs can be very healthy and helpful for developing essential life skills. In a well-run program, team sports encourage children to work together, encourage one another, and get along with others. A quality and gifted coach can develop these skills in children, and our children would be well-served into adulthood and our society would benefit by having these skills engrained into our children’s character.