Should competitiveness be taught to young children? The AFL is about to expand their approach of not scoring games or having league tables and best and fairest awards for the under 10s age group and below. Many adults have expressed their outrage at this approach via social media. Their argument is that a good dose of competition never hurt anyone and we should stop wrapping our children in cotton wool. Kids need to learn resilience, they say and winning and losing is part of life.
I agree that children need to learn resilience and helicopter parenting is not helpful. Children are not silly. They know when they have just received the best player award because it was their turn. They think they know who the best player on the field is (although young children often don’t know the value of a good defender or a fabulous team player). But they also know when it’s important to play well and get in a good team for their parents’ sake. And ugly parent syndrome is a large part of the problem.
Playing a team sport is good for children for physical and social reasons. The AFL has obviously looked into how children can get the most out of playing AFL. What will keep them playing? What will draw kids to the sport? Not all children can be superstars on the field. How can we stop them dropping out if they love playing but are not the best? Kids who are never picked in decent teams or who are always on a losing team may give up. And those children who are the stars of their teams in younger age groups don’t necessarily continue playing past puberty, especially if the pressure gets too much.
Surely the key to encouraging children to do anything is to reward genuine effort. Whether we’re talking about academic performance, playing sport or a musical instrument, dancing, drama or debating, celebrating effort has got to be good for them. If they come off the field or stage or receive their school report and they hear us applauding how hard they tried, then they are more likely to keep trying. And isn’t that a good life lesson? Not everyone can be professional sportspeople or musicians. We’re not all CEOs or company owners. But if we work hard and find things we enjoy, then the rewards should flow.
Children who shine in their younger years often do so because of natural talent. They might be naturally sporty, artistic or musical or they may be highly intelligent and so they stand out amongst their peers. But as they go through adolescence and into adulthood, they will discover that natural talent only gets you so far. Others who have worked harder and have enjoyed doing so will start to reap the rewards in terms of success and happiness.
I believe in teaching children how to cope with winning and losing, it’s just that learning the value of effort is even more valuable.