>Competition (July 06 News Advocate)

Posted: August 1, 2006 in Columns, Hockey, Kids and Parenting

Human beings have a natural, genetically pre-wired need for competition. And like any other human need, such as hunger or thirst, this need must be fulfilled in order for humans to feel whole. This is why I found myself in a triathlon in Interlochen a few weeks ago. I had never competed in one, but was convinced by my wife to do so. She had always dreamed of being a “triathlete,” and I went along for the ride.After all, I couldn’t let her have bragging rights over me if I didn’t do it, too.For those of you who aren’t familiar with this multi-sport event, you swim, then bike, then run a pre-determined distance. The olympic distances are a 1500 meter (just under one mile) swim, then a 40 Kilometer (24.8 mile) bike, finishing with a 10K (6.2 mile) run. The race we participated in was a shorter version, called a “sprint,” which comprised of a 500-meter swim, a 20K bike, and a 5K run. Although it was shorter, it was just as brutal for those of us who aren’t in olympic shape.The entire course took almost two hours to complete.In 90 degree heat.I had to ask myself why we did this… Because we need to compete.Nothing feels better than accomplishing something, especially when pitted against our fellow man (or woman.) Human beings competed for millions of years for food, shelter, mates, and just about everything else. Competition is part of our genetic survival code.That is why it feels good to compete, whether or not we win or lose — it’s in our blood. My 7 year old son is extremely competitive. This is not something we taught him. He came that way.As a father and a coach for more than one of his teams, I’ve learned that one of the hardest things to teach children is the fine balance between competitiveness and bad sportsmanship.Despite that, this is an extremely important lesson to teach; and I think at times, we shortcut it as parents and coaches, or avoid it altogether. My son has played in leagues where they keep score, and leagues where they don’t keep score. He enjoys the ones where they keep score much more — as do most of his teammates. Even in the leagues where we tell the kids we aren’t keeping score, they do it anyway. Young athletes enjoy measuring themselves against others, just like their full-grown counterparts. Sometimes I wonder if we’re de-emphasizing competitiveness too much with our children.I agree, at a young age, its important for kids to learn the game, without the pressure of worrying whether they are scoring or not. Unfortunately, parents have ruined it for their kids over the last 10 years or so. There have been too many instances of parents being injured or even killed over children’s sporting events.And who hasn’t witnessed the “ugly parent,” who yells at his own child, or the opposing team, coaches, or officials during a game. It’s an ugly thing to see, and children don’t need to be exposed to this type of behavior. But have we gone too far in trying to shelter kids? What do we teach our children when we tell them that keeping score isn’t important? They know from watching television that there’s a winner and a loser in every game. There is an age at which kids can handle losing a game, and its good for them to learn that they won’t always end up on top in life. Its not just a cliche’ — more can be learned from losing than winning. The difference between this lesson being a constructive or a destructive one for a child is in how the subject is broached by parents, coaches, and officials. Children’s sports can still be fun and rewarding for children when they are allowed to experience the joy of victory, as well as the agony of defeat. I think we’ve forgotten that its possible to still teach sportsmanship while keeping a tally of who performed better on a particular day.It’s a more realistic way to instruct children about sports — and life, for that matter. Studies suggest that participation in sports can be very beneficial, fostering responsible social behaviors, greater academic success, and an appreciation of personal health and fitness. Participating on a team can also give children an important sense of belonging.Sports are opportunities for youth to learn; they provide a “practice field” for life. Learning to work as part of a team teaches children social skills that will help them in their growth into adults, not just as athletes. For youth, participating in sports develops teamwork, leadership, self-confidence,self-discipline, and coping skills. Sports also teach a respect for authority.The most important part of athletics is participation. That’s why I didn’t care if I won my age group in the Interlochen triathlon. I was there to participate, and just to see if I could finish — even though I finished near the bottom of the heap. We don’t always give our children the credit they deserve. They’re smart enough to know right from wrong. We just need to guide them properly. If we show our kids that we are most proud of them for their participation, they don’t care whether or not they win or lose, and they’re better off in the long run.Cean Burgeson can be reached at: cburgeson@pioneergroup.net

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