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Competitions: Should everyone be a "winner" or do only the best win? Are we setting our children up for failure and disappointment?

"It doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game." In your opinion does teaching our children to have this mindset set them up for failure or disappointment in the future? Do you feel that everyone should win, or only the best should win? What happened to the days of learning to be a good sport whether you win or lose as opposed to it not mattering how you did as long as you had fun? I am looking for opinions regardless of what your stance!

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    Feb 26 2014: Life offers many degrees of sucess. The winner/loser pardigm of games does not apply there. Teaching kids to view life through the lens of winners and losers is a mistake.
  • Feb 26 2014: Parental attachment to these parochial things sometimes transfers to the child.
    If the parent is attached to winning and losing, perhaps the child will be attached.
    If the parent is unattached to winning and losing, perhaps the child will be unattached.

    On the competitive field, there is a spectrum of behavior to be observed in parents and children.
    This is an excellent teaching platform for a Parent-Child relationship
    Children generally do what we do, not what we say.
    They sense our stance, often with no words being expressed.

    Observing a Dad, or a Mom, on the verge of a heart attack on the sidelines, is an outstanding example for children. I am grateful for their intensity.

    Find what is important and Live it. Don't worry about anyone else.
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      Feb 26 2014: I agree with you, Scott, that adults surrounding the child project their attitudes, as do members of the peer group. Those of us who work with kids have to take this into account in providing good learning environments for children, good spaces for effort and risk-taking. This does not mean concealing the successes or good work of others, but it does mean not accepting put-downs and other proclamations of status. It means putting the focus on growth and on the behaviors one most wants to encourage- helpfulness to others, effort, sportspersonship, and so forth.
    • Feb 27 2014: You speak of the virtues of equanimity, magnanimity, and inagitability. They are despised by our cuture.
      • Feb 27 2014: Society suffers from a case of mistaken identity........it's endemic. And, quite natural. It runs its course.
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    Feb 25 2014: When you watch the Olympics, as many athletically inclined kids just have, they see teams and individuals from across the globe celebrating sports and trying to do their best for themselves, their loved ones, and their audiences. Few are contenders, in fact, for the coveted gold-silver-bronze, but they are there to play the game. Some are competitive to win, but most are long shots at best and go to do their best in a big collection of sports lovers.

    I notice the announcers declare whether the person competing has just achieved a personal best.

    There are lots of contests in which kids participate that have a similar character. Kids go because they love the activity that is the focus of the contest and feel celebratory to engage in it with others who share their enthusiasm, but they know on arrival that some teams have a better chance of winning prizes for "best." Some competitions also award most improved or best new school or something, so that not only raw performance matters.

    The best on that day get the medals. I would not say that arrangement sets the others up to feel like failures.

    Different competitions and different coaches produce a completely different atmosphere. A coach often has a lot of influence on whether his kids come away feeling good about the event, the effort, and the learning from it, or like failures. Being aware of this is important for a coach.

    It is important also to talk about the difference between what a contest measures and what is important in real applications. For example, some math events give kids a certain amount of time to do problems, but for a mathematician, taking an extra day wouldn't be a problem. A better, slower mathematician might not place as high in a contest but might have a promising career ahead in math or engineering. Using math again, some contests are about doing simple problems fast, nothing like math as a field. Other more authentic ones involve challenging problems with ample time.
  • Feb 26 2014: Always thought giving everyone a trophy was degrading the trophies and the participants. There are winners and non-winners but the key is in the journey and the attempt. Did you work as hard as you could and was the attempt the best you could do at that moment? I think the failure is not trying.

    In many sports, you work for your personal best and try to improve on it every time you compete. To me that is winning also - doing your personal best.
  • Mar 3 2014: Specifically aimed at YOUTH SPORTS: think of two models. Model 1 = winning is in reality the most important thing. Model 2 = winning is part of the mix and playing is based on competition, but the environment is simply competitive and/or recreational instead of prolympic (a construct in some academic articles). Clearly there is an extremely broad range covered in Model 2 from pickup games all the way to pre-elite hopefuls.

    I propose a Model 3 = which is neither a prolympic environment nor a competitive and/or recreational environment. It is not competition-without-keeping-score. It is not a cooperative-sports-game. Model 3 is based on a system of specific tasks with evaluations so that the participant may keep track over time of personal improvement--thus permitting meaningful self-referencing. There are no norm-referenced results therefore no "winners," "non-winners," or "loosers." There are tight criterion, so this embodies meaningful criterion-setting and meaningful criterion-referencing. There are no awards--this is to be intrinsic motivation with no extrinsic motivation from any source nor under any hidden guise.

    Model 3--as I propose it--will not take the place of either Model 1 nor Model 2, as long as they are used with understanding and applied in appropriate ways. Model 3 will offer an option for youth who choose an active lifestyle and healthy activity goals while avoiding the pitfalls frequently found in Model 1 and Model 2 environments. Model 3 will help teach sound criteria and still not de-value any level of progress; nor will it de-value a lack of progress.

    Of course, this is just an overview. There are numerous intricacies--as you can imagine.
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    Mar 3 2014: The Greeks believed that competition brought the best out of us. On the same token cutthroat competition can breed some very nasty people. I've seen people in the workplace with a sole "I win you lose" mentality and as you've guessed it no one likes to work with them. On the other hand, there are those who have a very competitive spirit, but they lift all those around them. The very late and successful businessman Stephen R. Covey says to always "think win-win". Both have it's place. In the Western world we tend to focus more on competition than collaboration. No matter whether in the workplace, at an activity, etc. everyone needs a sense of belonging. It's part of our (I guess you could call it) social/tribal DNA. John Wooden seems to emphasize that he has felt that his team was successful despite losing (12:12-12:58).
    http://www.ted.com/talks/john_wooden_on_the_difference_between_winning_and_success.html
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    Mar 2 2014: Hello Shannon,
    You can always aim to be the best version of your unique self, and in that way the concept of winners & losers is irrelevant. If as parents we do that, no doubt our children will pick up the thread.
  • Mar 1 2014: Both competition and cooperation have a place.

    The reality of life, it is about competition. Not everyone is going to "win". You may not get that job, you may not get that promotion, you may not get that raise. That is life.

    In school and sports, competition has been taught so poorly and needs to be taught better. Good healthy competition is possible. So is teaching students about it. Sadly, there are many poor role models out there in sports that kids and adults look up to.

    You need to teach both. Kids need to learn how to play together and cooperate. They need to know how to work in groups. They need to know how to bring out the best in each other in a group. That is important for jobs and life.

    Students also need to know what good competition looks like. In a game where there is a winner and a loser, you must know how to do both well. So much emphasis is placed on winning that we forget, someone has to lose. You must know how to win and lose well and graciously. That can and should be taught by educators.

    They both have a place in education and should be taught.
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    Feb 28 2014: There are infinite shades of gray between black and white, between winning and losing. The earlier we learn, understand, and accept this, the better we become.
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    Feb 28 2014: My personal pet hate as a high school teacher is having to explain to a student that their life long dream to be an airforce pilot may be in trouble due to their inability to get out of the bottom math class, Irrespective of the fact that they have been told by all and sundry that they can be anything they want if they put their mind to it.
  • Feb 27 2014: On one hand you have the 'Everybody gets a trophy' PC mentality, were the feelings and self-worth of those who don't win are coddled. That sets up children for a severe correction when they enter the Real World and are not handed 6-figure jobs and Ferrarris just for existing.

    On the other hand you have 'I'm #1 and you're a loser' mentality where any means to Win is acceptable. That leads to Sociopathic 1%ers and the 'Since you don't have as much as I do, you are lazy and deserve to die of starvation' crowd.

    Pick your poison.
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    Feb 26 2014: I think the adage 'Honesty is the best policy.' would apply best here. If you lose then face the fact that someone was better than you. So, what are you gonna do about it? Are you gonna become an activist and fight the system of winner take all? Are you gonna train and be better next time? Are you gonna try a different sport altogether, hoping you'll be better there? I believe illusions should be torn down and empower the individual to make his own choices and be shown the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It's like Pinocchio's nose. The lies just get better each time in the form of euphemisms and such. Calling a thing something different does not change the nature of the thing, only the way it is perceived, which in my book is no better than lying. You lose, too bad, so what? What are you gonna do about it?
  • Feb 25 2014: The real threat is the American cultural model, which amounts to "Everyone who isn't first is a loser and deserves to die, immediately." That's the problem. The "everybody's a winner" stupidity is a reaction against the first extreme.

    Likewise, there is a VERY BIG DIFFERENCE between "everybody's a winner" and "it's how you play the game".

    "Everybody's a winner" means that it does NOT matter how you play, you win, anyway.

    "It's how you play the game" means "Your victory of today is fleeting, mortal--IT WILL DIE, so do not gloat. Your defeat of today is fleeting, mortal--IT WILL DIE, so do not despair. What finally matters is how you strove. Victory will die. Defeat will die. Ultimately, it is the long-term reputation of how one played that will last."

    However, the American model is "I win, you need to die."
  • Feb 25 2014: Children should be taught that we are winners because we are at the top of the food chain and that we divide our labour and we heap great responsibility on the individual to find their own usefulness but to take their time because there is plenty of it up here at the top of the food chain.
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      Feb 26 2014: I don't agree Rodrigo. Our place in this world does not grant us "winner" status. It does impose on us responsibility to care for our world and those that inhabit it with us.