Lisa joined the cross-country team at school. At her age, they’re only expected to run 1 km, which isn’t far at all, not even for a 7-year-old.
After her first day of training, I asked he how it went. She reported that it went well and that she and a classmate had run most of the way and walked the rest. I asked her who had finished the run first. She had no idea.
In this way, she is a very different kid than I was. I loved competition and loved winning. I was more successful as a mathlete than an athlete, but even if I wasn’t the best at something, I always had the finish line in sight and at least knew who it was that I needed to beat. I blame my father, who is a good-natured guy, but also likes to be number one. I would come home and excitedly announce that I got 97% on a test and he would ask where I lost the other 3%. It sounds terrible, even as I write it here, but I never felt demoralized or angered by his comments. He was proud of me, but wanted to ensure I didn’t rest on my laurels, so to speak. My dad and I always had a relationship where he could joke around with me like that and I never felt slighted.
I explained to Lisa that the teachers would be selecting a cross-country team from those that went to the training and that only the first few finishers from each grade would be allowed to go to the city-wide meet. We discussed a strategy to see if she was capable of: 1) running the whole distance; and 2) being a top finisher. After each training day, she would report her progress. As I suspected, running the distance was not an issue, and she now finishes first among the girls, second overall. Next week, she’ll compete in the city-wide event and she is ecstatic. She expects to win. We’ll have to have a good talk about that.
It’s a tricky thing encouraging a competitive spirit in your child. On the one hand, you want your child to achieve his or her best and, of course, you want them to succeed when they do so. On the other hand, there will be many, many times, when even her best won’t be good enough; when she’ll train and try and run her little heart out, but someone else will be better. Will she be crushed? Will she say “better luck next time” and keep trying? Is either of these reactions right or wrong?