Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Competitive Spirit

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?


Pickles and Dimes said...

It is tricky to instill a healthy competitive spirit in your kid and to also teach them that it's OK not to win, too.

I was a naturally gifted runner, and coming from a small town, usually won my track meets. Obviously, after awhile, I expected to win.

But my parents were always good about reminding me that: "Somewhere out there, there's someone faster and stronger, who is training harder than you. And some day they may beat you, but as long as you try your best, that's OK."

My favorite cheesy inspirational poster from high school had this tagline: "If you cannot win, make the one in front of you break the record." I always loved that.

Jess said...

This is what scares me about being a parent. You want to give answers to your kid but you don't even know them yourself. But I think the best you can do is talk it out and explain it to them. We don't have to give it all to them in black and white. Sometimes you don't win and you really wish you did. That's OK.

Nowheymama said...

There's a cross country team for kids our girls' age at your school? Wow!

Chantal said...

I guess these experiences, even the bad ones, are just life eh. I have to remind myself that occasionally. That I can't protect my guys from disappointment.

Mandy said...

I think its great that there is a cross country team and good luck to her in the city-wide event!!

I think just showing an interest in it with her will help her thru the wins and the losses!

Erin said...

That IS tricky. Sounds like she's got a good head on her shoulders about it.

This post actually gave me butterflies in my stomach because I LOVE CROSS COUNTRY. It sounds so melodramatic, but I truly feel that running altered the course of my whole life, and I got into running via cross country. GOD, I love it. I've always wanted to coach, and hope that someday I get the chance. Seriously, I LOVE IT.

Astarte said...

God, it is one of my life dreams to be a runner. I don't know if it will ever happen (I have some physical issues with my back and hips), but I would LOVE it. It seems so free.

I know where you're coming from on this. I, too, am COMPETITIVE, and both kids are as well. They're actually harder on themselves than I could be in some areas, and in others they're lax. It's so hard to strike the right balance - encourage but don't stress out, let them know it's important but not the end of the world, you'll be excited and/or disappointed FOR them but not IN them, etc. Phew.

This parenting thing is HARD.

gmcountrymama said...

I tried to get my daughter to try the cross country team or the soccor team or the basketball team but she really just doesn't seem to like many sports. I hated sports growing up but I was hoping my kids would like them. She did say she would join a swim team but we don't have one! At least she is an active child, taking dance classes, drama, and rides her bike daily. She just doesn't like sports.

Beck said...

It sounds like you're doing a good job.... my Boy is on the track and field team! Maybe someday they'll run by each other.

Bette Creek said...

The competitive thing is tricky. With my older two - one of them couldn't care less if she's the winner or not, where's the younger one "always has to be the winner". Same parents, same talks, and yet they have different mind sets. Good luck to Lisa!!

amreen said...

my mum was a lot like my dad and i am so grateful she pushed me when she did. i was the type of kid who would put in 80 percent knowing i could get by. she encouraged me to always put in the extra twenty and it served me well in school and in life. where i used to dread it, i now sometimes long for that kick in the pants.