The Competitive Gene

Last summer was Flea's first school sports day.

I watched from the sidelines as my daughter took part in the egg and spoon race, the 100 metre sprint, and some weird relay involving hoops and bean bags, the rules of which I couldn't really follow.

But my favourite part of the day was watching how Flea came in last in every single event but was still completely thrilled with her own performance. I watched her running back to join her classmates after the relay race, and saw her mouthing, "Yay Me!" to herself.

As far as Flea was concerned, she'd tried hard and had fun – she was a winner.

But in the 12 months since that day, that unshakeable confidence has wavered somewhat, as Flea becomes aware of the concept of 'winning' and 'losing'.

Flea is painfully aware that her best friend Zara is taller and stronger and faster than her – and when they run races, Flea quickly gets upset because she never wins.

As a Mum, my instinct is to cheer Flea up and tell her it doesn't matter if she loses; that it's just about having fun. But is it? 

To be brutally honest, I'm a ridiculously competitive person. I really, really hate to lose. I'm gracious about it on the outside, but it doesn't sit easily with me. That's not a bad thing, necessarily – it means I'm willing to work harder and do what's needed to make something happen. Professionally, my competitive instinct drives me to find the best stories, get commissions for the best newspapers or come up with new ways of doing things, whether that's listing blogs or running awards programmes. It's helpful, then.

There are some signs Flea may have inherited my competitive streak. Today, she came home from school and told me that she had been playing races and she wasn't as fast as Zara or Charlie. "But I was faster than Natasha which is surprising because Natasha is six, and I am only five and a half," said Flea, flushed with triumph and pride. "I can hardly believe that I was faster, Mummy." 

So, here's what I wonder: do you teach your kids about healthy competition and that it's okay to like to win and hate to lose? Or do you try to teach them to value things as fun opportunities to take part?



Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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  1. 10th March 2011 / 6:18 am

    Your kidlet is such a card!!! I love reading about her antics. I make sure my kids get lots of opportunities to compete… they go to gym where they race and climb and play and compete… and the coaches deal with the fall out!!! More importantly no-one is ever told “you are all a winner”… because that’s just rubbish and every kid knows it!!!

  2. 10th March 2011 / 6:48 am

    Aww, bless x
    My oldest came in last when she started school and wasn’t bothered either; she said, ‘Mummy, I like to run, but bit to compete,’ and, ‘I stayed near the back to make sure no one tripped and needed help.’ Since then she has managed to come second! She’s tiny, but has stamina. Yes she was thrilled but also keen to hug her friends and say well done. We always try to encourage good sportsmanship, but of course it’s hard not to feel deflated when things don’t goons well. I just try to remind them, when they don’t win, that their time will come, but perhaps in a different ‘talent’. We just have to find our strengths. A great post x

  3. 10th March 2011 / 10:40 am

    Yes we teach TE and BB about competition, but also that it is the taking part in something that is important. Win or lose you learn something that you can take forward to the next event/time/stage in your life and it is the learning bit that is important.

  4. 10th March 2011 / 2:26 pm

    My daughter (aged 11) is a competitive swimmer so I have taught her to be competitive more so with herself to strive to better herself and that it’s ok to be good as something but also that being a team player is just as important and be proud of your friends achievements as well as her own – I hope this provides well rounded approach to what can be a competitive world.
    Having fun is important x

  5. 10th March 2011 / 7:47 pm

    I agree – I think if you’re insincere, they know it.

  6. 10th March 2011 / 7:48 pm

    Oh bless! Flea comes last in the egg and spoon race because she’s the only kid who won’t cheat and only uses one hand with the other behind her back. I like the idea of their time coming, just maybe in another talent, though.

  7. 10th March 2011 / 7:48 pm

    Indeed. Live and don’t learn is my motto, of course.

  8. 10th March 2011 / 8:19 pm

    It definitely depends on the individual child. One of mine used to be very competitive with himself and it was just as bad as if he had been competing against peers. He used to really get down on himself if he didn’t do as well as he thought he should. Not at all sure where it came from either, as now he’s so laid back he’s almost horizontal.

  9. 10th March 2011 / 8:40 pm

    I am very competitive with myself not so much with others. However Mr L is really competitive with other people so I am not sure how Baba will be. But he will probably get both sides of the coin explained to him xx

  10. 10th March 2011 / 8:45 pm

    There is a huge streak of non-competitive gaming in home ed/alternative parenting land. I have to say, I cannot begin to see the point of it. Life IS competitive, the best people get further, do better, have more success and so on in the work place.
    Best, of course, is a bit subjective – I’d rather be a nice failure than a successful bitch.
    I’m not actually a big fan of ‘competitive’ things either but my kids indulge in very competitive sports- gymnastics is just *ugh* The line we take though is that competing against yourself is healthier, how you do, how you prepare, how you cope. On the day, anything can happen. One daughter comes last after performing out of her skin in a huge and skilled group of a girl, another falls off the bars in her normally safe move but everyone else does worse so she gets the gold.
    Who did better? Who should be more pleased? Actually, I aim for both. “Well done you for the best performance you’ve done yet; well done you for holding your nerve on a day when you screwed up!”
    I cannot bear, really hate, tears and stroppiness about losing. What I like is well deserved joy in trying the hardest you can.

  11. Working Mum
    13th March 2011 / 1:41 pm

    In our house second place is first loser!

  12. 16th March 2011 / 10:13 pm

    For my sins I am seriously competitive and I have twins so we always have a winner and a loser at our house.
    We attempt to teach our children about trying your best but I do seem to have a rather loud cheering voice when stood on the sidelines of a race!
    Recently at swimming test day, i was seen to be rocking on the side of the pool chanting ‘go on lass’ loudly without even realising!