Competition part of life

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
For the last couple of months, we’ve been exhorted to be kind to one another and, as a nation, I think we’ve managed that pretty well, writes parenting columnist Ian Munro.

Ian Munro
Ian Munro
There’s been a lot of good-natured competitive activity promoted online and through radio and television where most competitors appear not to have taken themselves too seriously. It’s been fun.

But now, in Alert Level 2, playing to win returns. Cut-throat politics is back and professional sport is gearing up. Competition is the name of the game.

Competition is a fact of life from early on, whether it’s sibling competition, competitive games at primary school or competing for a place in high school.

As parents we can approach competition as something we need to protect our youngsters from to save them from experiencing disappointment and failure. Or we can go hard at it to make sure they’re the very best – whether it be the "ballet mother" or the aggressively vocal dad on the sideline of any sports field.

Both approaches are unhelpful. Failure is inevitable and youngsters whose parents are either over-protective or drive their children to be winners and who accept nothing less, can suffer much unhappiness.

All through life there’ll always be others who are better in some way — in sports or cultural competition, education, the workplace, or human relationships.

It is important to teach children how to compete, but equally, it’s important to teach them how to cope with losing, or even with just plain "averageness". Being able to come to terms with your limitations and weaknesses is just as important as being able to realise your potential.

The message that works best is the one about competing against yourself to do the best you can. You may use competition with others to do this and, while coming first is great, "if you can honestly say that what you delivered was your personal best, then you should be pleased with that and we are too". From this can come the challenge to do better next time.

There’s nothing more demoralising than competing with others when winning has become the be-all and end-all and, despite striving, just not being able to deliver. There’s a high personal toll and often a feeling of letting others down.

Those feelings then have to be surmounted before they can get on with delivering a better performance next time. Some never do.

It’s worth bearing in mind the words of the often-disparaged Olympic creed – "the most important thing ... is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well".

 - Ian Munro

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