Competition is a learned behavior; children are not born competitive. They learn to have a desire to win and be competitive through social interactions.3 Children handle competition based on their temperament, culture, talent, and age. Children begin to compete with others and compare others’ skills with their own at about age 5. Between ages 6 and 8 children prefer to play for fun and do not do well in competitive activities. Successful teamwork is not developed until about age 10, when they can begin to handle both success and defeat gracefully. Children who are insecure, immature, selfish, spoiled, or irresponsible are not ready for competitive activities. They may not have developed patience and tolerance with others. Quick decision making, self-control, discipline, and maturity are all required for successful healthy competition.4
There are advantages of competition. Competition can build confidence and develop self-esteem. Children can refine and practice skills, acquire coordination, and develop cognitive and social abilities. Competition requires learning the rules of the game and learning how to work with others successfully in a cooperative manner. Children can also develop healthy attitudes about winning and losing in play situations.5 Learning to be a gracious loser as well as a gracious winner builds character.6
Because competitions are set up as a win-lose situation, there can be many disadvantages as a result. If the focus is on winning and not the joy of the game, the educational purpose of competition is lost. Games with teams are designed for fun, development of physical skills, and learning teamwork.7 However, if winning at any cost is stressed, the losers can feel humiliation, have their confidence undermined, and feel a loss of self-worth with their performance in the competition diminished.8 The winners may start to evaluate themselves based on how many victories they have achieved. If they become overly competitive, they may try to avoid losing by cheating, lying, or trying to change the rules of the game to win. They may decide not to try a new game or activity at all, if they think they won’t be good enough to win.9
Although our society offers challenging competitions throughout life, there is also the view of some that the best amount of competition for children is none at all. When a child’s value is determined by what he’s done as a result of competition, he can only feel good about himself when he is winning. Winners are envied and losers are dismissed. Competitive children can be less empathetic with others and less generous. Competition can be destructive to children’s self-esteem and can sabotage relationships with others.10
Allowing children to engage in free play, where the play is non-competitive and freely chosen by the children, is essential for the social development of a sense of equality, connectedness, and concern for others. Children learn the value of compromise and are able to see the world from others’ perspectives.11 Cooperative play creates healthy behavior helping children communicate effectively, accept the differences in others, and develop the ability to trust others. Children learn better when they work in cooperation with others, and they feel better about themselves, because their value is not based on a competition. Cooperative games allow children to work together, without creating enemies.12
- 1. “Competition.” Dictionary.com. < http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/competition > 4 Oct. 2010.
- 2. Johnson, Cynthia E. “Children & Competition.” North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. < http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts./fcs/pdfs/fcs404.pdf > 4 Oct. 2010.
- 3. Lopes, Marilyn. “Competition: Is It Healthy For Children?” National Network for Child Care. < http://www.nncc.org/Guidance/compet.health.html > 4 Oct. 2010.
- 4. Op. cit., Johnson.
- 5. Op. cit., Johnson.
- 6. Hessong, Athena. “What Are The Benefits of Organized Sports for Children?” eHow.com. < http://www.ehow.com/list_6657500_benefits-organized-sports-children_.html > 4 Oct. 2010.
- 7. Op. cit., Lopes.
- 8. Op. cit., Johnson.
- 9. Fawley, Kya. “The pros and cons of competition.” Babycenter. < http://www.babycenter.com/0_the-pros-and-cons-of-competition_66985.bc > 4 Oct. 2010.
- 10. Kohn, Alfie. “The Case Against Competition.” Alfie Kohn.org. < http://www.alfiekohn.org/parenting/tcac.htm > 4 Oct. 2010.
- 11. “’Free play’ for children, teens is vital to social development, reports BC psychologist.” EurekAlert! < http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-04/bc-pf041509.php > 16 Aug. 2010.
- 12. Op. cit., Kohn.