Children learn from competing (with themselves first of all) when it’s done right

COLUMNDaniela Ginta writes Fridays for The Armchair Mayor News.

I remember being in Grade six and taking part in an inter-street tennis championship. What I cannot remember is who won. But everyone gave their best and then some.

Gintahed1In Grade eight we had track and field and I lived for being the fastest in the 50m dash. My best time on school grounds was 7.7 and though not too bad, I thought I’d get a better one if I trained more. The competition seeds came home with me every day and that’s how I got into the habit of training and working out.

I don’t remember if I ever got a better time at the 50m dash (I guess it became less important once I left the school grounds) but I remember running and imagining many great races in my head as I was dashing over the hills close to my home.

Many years later while in Vancouver, a friend asked if I’d try a duathlon (5k run, 20k cycling, 5k run.) It had been a while. I was hesitant. Memories of the 50m dash resurfaced. I signed up. Training with little kids in tow is a challenge but it can be done.

I lived for that race and many more after. I didn’t do too bad either, finishing mid-pack in my first, and fifth in a second one. My friend and I would sometimes train together, share laughs over a cup of coffee every now and then and compete like crazy on the day of the race.

We would wait for each other at the finish line, we would hug and share large happy smiles. No ill blood whatsoever. I wrote about my first race experience and thanked my friend for introducing me to the world of races.

A few days ago my son mentioned some track and field training at school. He could not be less impressed with it.

I never insist that my sons like what I like but running, jumping and kids go well together, you’d agree. I asked questions, he gave me answers. I understood where the lack of interest came from.

There was no measuring of jumps and such; kids are given a ‘good job’ and then they go to the back of the line again.

I knew of the competition-less nature of children’s sports. The intention is good, but the results less so. Children compete, naturally so, and there are no bad feelings whatsoever if they are guided towards understanding the nature of the game.

Competition, though, gives a reason to want to be better, to try harder and to train, because there is a goal to be achieved.

At the end of the event, whether it is a street level competition, city or province-wide, there should he hand shaking no matter who wins, congratulations of the best and no gloating, because there is no triumphing over anyone else but your own limitations, though you competed with others.

In all of it, though, there should be a lot of learning of the fine art of sportsmanship. Learning to lose and not be a sore loser, learning to win and not gloat, learning to assess your own level of preparedness and be willing to work harder.

Handing children a universal ‘You are great/amazing/awesome!’ when they’re not is robbing many of a chance to be all they can be and a chance to try harder. Children know when they do well. Children also know when they don’t.

In time though, that may fade. The hard-working ones become discouraged and the ones who could try harder learn that you can get by and get accolades just by showing up, which is not what real life is about. Teaching children to be complacent is never good.

The reason they all get high-fives, I was often told, is just so no one feels inadequate. Yet, if done right, feeling inadequate is not the end of the road but the start of a better one.

We can guide children out of feeling inadequate and we can instill confidence in them.

By allowing them to know if they did well or not, we offer them the gift of fairness and help them grow up with the belief that ‘You can if you want.’

There are no guarantees in life. What I know to be true for all of us, though, is that there will be ups and downs. We can start teaching our children early about how to handle themselves through each, we can teach them to see their capabilities; we can encourage their motivation to pursue whatever it is they choose to pursue.

None of the things they learn will make the downs less steep, but it’ll make the journey worthwhile. It’ll make them see how amazing they can be if they try their hardest and give it their best, because they know, deep down, that simply showing up is not enough.

Daniela Ginta is a mother, scientist, writer and blogger. She can be reached at, or through her blog at


About Mel Rothenburger (7707 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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