Competition Overload? by childgrower Annita Woz

basketballfeetShe looks like an angel while in the water and has a front crawl that is so beautiful and fluid that I get goose bumps when I watch her glide up the lane during the local swim team workout.

At times, someone who doesn’t know she is my daughter will bump my elbow and remark about her grace and then follow up with a question about how she does in competition after I admit she is my little fish.

I shrug my shoulders and tell them that I don’t know because she refuses to compete in a swim meet.  She has watched several, has signed up for a few then erased her name and will not “kick’er down” in a swim lane even during practice. She despises the boys on swim team who are always racing in the lane next to her and shouting in triumph when they beat her to the wall “even when I’m not racing them!” she tells me in frustration. 

Yet I know she can race and I know her slow and steady style is the winning kind.

I’ve seen her go. I’ve not seen her go fast but I’ve seen her go a little faster than her normal pace, with a grin if one is able to make one during the side head turn that she makes every four strokes as she opens her mouth for more air and then faces back to the bottom of the pool while reaching her cupped hand forward to take the water under her strength.

I’ve seen her win against her dad’s long arms in a hotel pool over the holiday. She won with a giggle and the graceful technique that dad has never been taught. He doesn’t hold back with his kids so it is with pride and wonder in his eyes he sees this girl he has raised, his creation, win the little race. He ducks his head after this rare loss and congratulates her with a newfound respect for his little girl’s gumption against her old dad.

 His pride is not wounded at all.  He knows the confidence that comes with winning and he is thrilled to see her receive the natural consequences that come from working toward a goal and then meeting it.

She’s not a little girl to the competitive world.  She is nearly twelve and over the years has been a part of swim team, club soccer, the youth wrestling team and was asked to join the gymnastics squad.  We resisted that.  She was only in Kindergarten and they warned us when we declined that they would not offer the opportunity again.

She never complains about going to any practice and loves the lessons and instruction from coaches and teachers.  She’s been willing to load  top of school work many different things:  ballet, voice lessons, tennis,  piano, painting, sculpting, jewelry making and even put some miles on the tennis shoes for the annual pumpkin run where the cross country team gets the kids to run for the honor of some hot chocolate and a participation ribbon. 

We were very pleased to recently hear a similar story about resisting competition from our daughter’s soccer friend.

The friend does not like to race  in the swimming pool, but she found a local swim team that takes to the water regularly, tweaks their strokes under the direction of a talented swim coach, but they never enter a race.

Could it be true? Yes! This swim team is non-competitive – the price is not club level, either- but the commitment is just as stringent and the group is clear about that.  Practices are not like a swim lesson and swimming with speed has its place in the program-  but the rewards come not in finishing first in a heat but in showing up for the regular work out and in taking pride in honing the skills of swimming and mastering the waves.

My girl likes this kind of team. She loves to be with friends, she loves to learn. 

In sports she  likes to concentrate. In art she pushes and challenges her hands to create the right shadow on a painting and will not give up until it meets her critical eye.

In sports, she likes to get sweaty and loves a mud game with rain and dirt and grime caking her shins and her shoes and splattering into her long hair.  We almost didn’t let her go out for soccer this year thinking that she doesn’t really love it or she would be more serious and more successful.  But a coach encouraged me to let her go out again wondering how I knew she didn’t love it? She smiles when she is there, she never complains, she does whatever the coach asks her to do and she does her best.

He had a good point there. She does her best. We never ask her to win, just to do her best.  Should we ask her to quit just because the best doesn’t include winning.  What measure of success were we expecting?

At her request, we signed her up for soccer again and the team has lost every game. If winning could be accomplished simply by parental will and loud volume, we’d be the league champions. We are an unfailing cheering section for them, chanting “Orange, Orange!” so they will run by and give us a line of high fives after each game. We ring the metal cow bell and whoop it up when they attempt a goal, knowing that if we save it for when the ball hits the net, we will only hear silence.  The other teams look at us with an odd expression, surely wondering what we would sound like if we were to win.

Our girls love to play and they love their coach and they love to do their best, and they come back to play (to PLAY) the next game. It is not a battlefield, not a shameful attempt. It is simply fun. 

I wish there were more teams that do not compete, like this new swim team we have found. It seems more like playing than competing straddling the desire to be healthy and learn a life-long activity while still being fun.

Perhaps this rare team bears witness to an emerging trend in sports where kids get to impress themselves rather than be performers for an audience of parents and peers. 

###A. Woz. For EP. October 19, 2009.


2 Responses

  1. What a great concept! A team for kids that love sports and it’s not just about winning-I love it.

  2. Isn’t it a shame that team sports that could teach so many valuable lessons sometimes teach all the wrong lessons instead.

    What is also distressing is parents who encourage competition among their children. Like it or not, that means somebody comes out a loser. My daughters struggle with teaching their sons that they “always support your brothers.”

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