Education Eye: Should kids be protected from competition?

Catherine Stoker
Catherine Stoker

Is shielding children from competition and hence potential failure a good thing?

I was interested to hear this week of the sacking of an under 10’s football coach for suggesting to parents his main interest was in the winning not in the taking part.

It brings back memories of my time as a PE teacher when team selection was a constant balancing act between equal opportunity and pressure from the Head to applaud a string of positive results during assembly on a Monday morning, not to mention the management of expectation amongst ambitious parents on the touch-line.

It all leads to the question of whether competition is a positive educational experience for children.

In my opinion, it is not the competitive environment that is the problem, it is realistic goal setting and how feedback on the outcome of competition is handled that matters.

Life is competitive.

Not only team selection, but also the lead in the school play, the appointment of prefects, entry to university and especially in the job market. Hence managing expectation by learning to evaluate personal strengths and capabilities and where these sit amongst peers is an important life skill.

Identifying areas where your child can excel, setting realistic goals, learning to cope with disappointment and how to evaluate failure is all, in my view, an important part of developing emotional intelligence.

Feedback on how to improve and encouragement to work hard to attain that elusive first team place is crucial.

Surely in an area where children are thrown into competition at a young age through the 11+, sport can be a good way to give them the coping mechanisms for potential disappointment. Keeping the ambitions of parents at a realistic level, now that is a different story and is, in my view, the biggest challenge.