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Elementary School Encourages Kids to Suppress the ‘Urge to Win’

teamI’m the least stage mom-y mom you’ll ever meet. I push my kids to try hard and have fun, but if it turns out that after a reasonable trial period their talents prove somewhat inadequate and they fail to find any pleasure in what they’re doing, I’ll happily allow them to move on to the next sport/activity/hobby.

I’ve never been a shining athletic star, so I know firsthand that plenty of enjoyment and reward can be derived from finishing somewhere other than first place. That being said, I also know (faintly) how great it feels to be at the top of the heap. Winning at all costs isn’t my motto, but I’ll never lie and say that coming out ahead doesn’t feel exponentially better than being left in the dust.

That’s just one reason why I don’t live in Rochester Hills, Mich., where students at North Hill Elementary School are being encouraged to suppress the “urge to win” at the annual field day even, according to Progressives Today.

A flyer distributed to parents said, in part:

The purpose of the day is for our school to get together for an enjoyable two hours of activities and provide an opportunity for students, teachers and parents to interact cooperatively. Since we believe that all of our children are winners, the need for athletic ability and the competitive “urge to win” will be kept to a minimum. The real reward will be the enjoyment and good feelings of participation.

I get not wanting kids to go overboard solely to emerge victorious. After all, no one needs their kindergartener coming home with a bloody nose and black eye after a game of kickball at recess. I also get giving all kids who show up and try a trophy at the end of soccer season — there’s nothing wrong with a little hardware to encourage and recognize hard work and sportsmanship, especially when they’re first starting out.
But to discourage emerging victorious? When done correctly, a little competition can be a great learning tool. Bruised egos aren’t enjoyable, but sometimes they’re the motivation needed to succeed the next go-round. Those who work harder will often go farther — it’s just a fact. And if they don’t, they might be encouraged to do better the next time. To say there are no winners and losers is to lie. There are winners and losers almost everywhere you look. Instead of frowning on rivalries, how about teaching kids how to win with class and lose with grace?
This is not to say that an elementary school field day should be a knock-down, drag-out event in which only the strong survive and the meek are scorned for their lack of ability and drive. Hopefully everyone has fun in the process, but having some incentive to come out a winner can make it more fun and strengthen friendships. Dangling the word “winner” on a carrot isn’t doing anyone a disservice; on the contrary, it’s teaching kids that working together and doing your best can be rewarding. And if you lose but know you tried hard, it can soften the blow. Not trying hard and still losing? Sounds kind of dreadful.
If you want everyone to feel like a winner, don’t pit them against each other. Instead, have them hold hands and king “Kumbaya.” But if you want to keep score and stop playing when one side emerges with more points, there’s nothing wrong with offering a little incentive to be on the team with the larger number.
Photo credit: Flicker

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Follow Meredith on Twitter and check out her regular column on the op-ed page of The Denver Post at MeredithCarroll.com

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