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The competition conundrum

Submitted by on Wednesday, 23 February 2011 One Comment

Competition is good: Before his last indoor soccer game last winter, Big Guy knew his team hadn’t lost all season. He saw that slipping away and begged his coach to put him in on defense so he could help stop an onslaught. The coach did – he was probably chuckling to himself because Big Guy had griped for two months about playing defense – and the team won. Big Guy learned a lesson way beyond “it’s fun to be undefeated.”

Competition is silly: Boots begged to go to school when he was sick on Valentine’s Day, and not just because he was going to miss the party. He also was going to miss a chance to read a list of 10 words to his teacher so he could move on to the next level. “It’s no fair! M and I are on the same list and now he’s going to get ahead!”

Competition is luck: Big Guy bounced in a chair Sunday and gripped its arm as his favorite driver was within three laps of winning the Daytona 500. Two stuff-happens crashes later, he finished 22nd. “That’s no fair!” Big Guy wailed, burying his head in a pillow. “That’s racing,” I responded. “Some days you can run a great race but bad luck will get you in the end.”

And that’s why I can never come up with a consistent position on competition for the guys. I can’t even say consistently that competition such as Boots’ word contest is silly, because one of these days if he’s up against M for the last slot at a good college, it will matter.

Or will it? The world is full of people who have gone on to successful, happy lives after attending a “lesser” school. Or even no school at all.

Still, it’s just as silly to say that all competition is bad. I had that debate a few months ago with a neighbor girl as the 10-year-old joined us on our evening dog walk.

“It’s bad because you shouldn’t be thinking about winning. You also should think about working together.”

“But sometimes you can work together to win,” Big Guy said, proving that he’d learned something from the  undefeated soccer season.

“You’re both right,” I said. “Competition’s bad if you’re thinking only about winning. But wanting to do your best – that’s good.”

Still, I know some kindergarteners who find the 10-word lists crushing. They’re aware that some of their classmates are far ahead of them, and they’re embarrassed almost to the point of paralysis in class by that.

But I also know that the elaborate “everyone’s a winner” pretense of not keeping score doesn’t do any good either. Once the guys were past age 4, they could keep score in their head even if there were no numbers posted on the board.

“We lost again,” Boots said as he came off the soccer court last night.

“Well, did you have fun playing?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Are you a better player than you were last year?”


“Then that’s all that matters right now.”

It’s also the best philosophy I can come up with right now. Focus on having fun, getting better and working together. Leave the scoreboard watching for later.

Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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