Let me start by saying, I am not a competitive person. As a parent of athletes, I happily enrolled my kids in little league and was pleased when the games for 7 and 8-year-olds didn’t keep score, everyone got a chance to hit, and everyone won a medal. To me, that was a victory. No one cried because they lost and it seemed everyone went home happy. One of the things I looked for when considering sleep away camps for my son, who is by nature very competitive, was a camp that valued activities beyond sports. I wanted him to experience theater, nature, crafts and also sports…he never got out of his cleats the entire time he was at camp and his favorite day was the day Color War started, and the camp divided into two competing teams.
Maybe I had it all wrong. Watching the Olympics, I have been rethinking the value of competition where there are clear winners and losers and not everyone gets a medal. Did I miss the opportunity to teach my kids to work hard to win and persevere if they didn’t at first succeed? What about the lessons of losing with grace? And, for that matter, winning with that same grace? Sure, the two teams always line up to slap hands and say, “Good Game,” the postgame show of good sportsmanship, but does it diminish the effort of all if we celebrate the athlete who made the winning goal, basket, or run?
In watching the Olympics each night, I think the lessons of competition at any age are universal and perhaps more significant than the “everyone’s a winner model.” Competition at its core builds character in both the winning and the losing. Being a part of a team builds maturity from the common goal of winning and digging extra deep for your team, and in celebrating the win as well as the shared experience of losing. And sometimes competition leads to standing on a podium with a gold medal around your neck as the National Anthem plays.