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I'm Avital.

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Disadvantages of Sports

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Did you know that some parents hold their kids back a year in school in order to be the biggest? Just so they can do better in sports? It’s called red shirting. Like when a coach would keep an athlete out of college competition for a year in order to develop the athlete’s skills and extend their period of playing eligibility.

One of my friends proudly told me that he “benched” his daughter in the last season of the game because in his words: “She sucks at soccer.” He preferred she didn’t have a chance to play in the game at all, in order to give the team a “real chance at winning.”

Another friend asked me how he could encourage his toddler to be left or right handed depending on what would be best for baseball! True story! 

And I get it. At least in America it seems that all of the school pride and budget goes toward organized sports. Not the arts or the sciences, or developing emotional health. Research suggests there are quite  a few issues with competitive sports.  I mean think about it! They always pit one person or team against another, creating an artificial win-lose situation that doesn’t mirror the real world, or at least not the real world that I want to create.

 The Real Price of Organized Competition 

  • What does it take to be a winner?
  • What do you gain?
  • What do you lose?
  • Are our children enjoying it?
  • Or are they paying a very steep price in order to perform in these ‘games’? 

We know that often little bodies are being pushed way too hard in order to achieve, perform, repeat.  When such great emphasis is placed on getting the big W however, they may just learn that the ends justify the means. If a child is so bent on winning they may not want to include a child who is handicapped, weaker than them, or younger than them because it may mean losing. When winning is what’s important they may learn to trample other people, and even trample their own feelings. We teach kids that there are clear problems for losers in competitive sports. 

But there are equal problems for winners. They learn that their value and their inherent worth lies in external accolades.  Just ask any athlete who has been injured and now can’t play. Upon losing their sport, they may feel like they’ve lost their identity. In a competitive world inclusivity and collaboration suffer and at the end of the day — everybody loses. #tweetable In a competitive world inclusivity and collaboration suffer and at the end of the day - everybody loses.via @ParentingJunkieTweet This

What To Do Instead When Competition is Clearly So Harmful

Remember, rewards impede achievement. When children play for the fun of the game based on their own intrinsic motivation, they’re actually likely to achieve even higher. The solution though isn’t swinging from one polarity where one person wins and everyone else loses, to one where everybody wins. 

The solution is taking the emphasis off of winning altogether and focusing on personal growth.

Collaboration. The joy of the game. When we were kids it was more about pick up games than organized sport, and including anyone who happened to be there. In a pick up game, children are free to join or not, to keep playing or to leave if they don’t like how the others are playing.  Kids need to negotiate the rules a bit, decide how they’ll play and with who. The beauty is that they are learning to play a game with others for fun and negotiate all those sticky spots around fairness and rule following. When sports are adult led, they may not want to play anymore whilst being pushed to perform. 

  1. Offer choice – If you’re forced to play a game then we shouldn’t really call it play at all. Play is something you choose to do. Offer the when, how often, and how hard. Make it belong to them. Try to find a sport or coach who doesn’t emphasize competition and does emphasize self-esteem. Make sure they’re doing it because it’s enjoyable, and pushing themselves is fun and challenging because they feel called to the task. 
  2. Focus on Self Improvement vs Competition – Take the emphasis off of beating the other guy and put it back on effort, hard work, and up leveling yourself.  Rather than asking “Did you beat the other guy?!” ask, “Did you improve somehow? Did you meet your goal?” Make your language about elevating oneself rather than beating down someone else. 
  3. Support Having Fun and Being Kind – Multi-aged groups encourage kindness and inclusivity because older kids can mentor and teach the other kids how to play the game, often modifying their own skills in order to level the playing field (e.g. playing with their non-dominant hand).  It’s a less stressful environment typically where older ones can  learn some teaching skills  and even improve themselves just by practicing at a slower pace.

I know what you might be thinking. Competition is important because that’s how the world works.  In a capitalistic environment we improve our business offerings and our customer service. A healthy sense of competition pushes us, yes.  When we consider competition to be the only driver toward excellence however, we miss out on another incredible driver: collaboration.  In my own business, I see no competitors. Only endless, potential collaborators.

When we mute the emphasis on winning and competition we can find win-win solutions where we both played great – we both had fun! It’s not about me beating you.  Isn’t that the type of world you’d like to create with our children? When we mute the volume on competition and up the collaboration  then inclusivity, diversity, and fun thrive. 

Hey! What’s your experience with winning and losing at sports? Did you play any sports? Why or why not? Tell me your story in the comments section. 


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7 Replies to “Why Competitive Sports Harm our Children and What to do Instead”

  1. I loved playing basketball and was always very pleased with myself to make the school team from junior high until high school. But I was never super competitive….I just never understood when other girls would cry because we lost the city finals, or when they’d get super rough and foul out of the game. Once in a while I’d get super competitive but it just wasn’t my nature. I truly did it for the fun and joy of it! It didn’t bother me I wasn’t the BEST on the team and I didn’t beat myself up about having not my greatest game. It was TRULY a confidence and self-esteem builder for me to be good at a sport whilst not being exceptional. Although I always though it was just my nature to be un-competitive, I can see now that my parents NEVER put an emphasis on winning! They would always ask “how was the game? How did you play?” <3 I'm so grateful to have these insights now before considering what to enroll my kids in or not - especially living in a place where there happen to be a lot of Olympians per capita!

  2. Hi Avital,
    Ohhh.. I have had such a sore spot for organized team sports for the last few years. I sort of pushed some of my siblings to quit because of what a waste of my life I felt like it was. So many hours just to blow a knee and it all to be over, my identity lost, just from one ball carrying run in a football practive. Being ‘encouraged’ to train and try out for top competitive teams as a young girl had left me very much in the non-collaborative mindset. I just had to be better than this girl or that girl… These sports that were meant to teach us to work as a team really just thought us how to craftily step on each other or set each other up for failure. We all wanted to be the star and acted like real jerks to each other as a result. When it was all over for me, I had a real identity crisis while attending university and broke down in a Lit class when the theme of ‘identity’ came up. I had others in tears while telling my story. I’d never been anything else but a machine, a body to perform (literally what my dad called my games – a performance for the parents). Not to mention the very old for my age body I am left with from the many many many injuries, as well as concussions. My son will be 4 soon and my family has been talking about putting him hockey and soccer for at least 3 years now. I’m not interested. I don’t want to do to him what that culture did for me (stunted my personal growth and left me with no other skills and poor interpersonal skills). Thank you for this video and blog. I’ll be sharing it so that others can better understand my point of view and just because I was an athlete, doesn’t mean I’ll be pushing my son to follow suit.

  3. I played a couple of sports in middle school, but they weren’t as time-consuming or intense 18 years ago. I didn’t even try to go out for sports in high school though, because I went to a large school and you had to be the best to get any play time. We don’t have any of our children in sports yet. Our daughters are 8 & almost 7, and our son is 3. We get surprised looks for people, but it’s just not the focus for us right now. They are physically active and play well with others, so we’re not rushing anything

  4. Great video as usual Avital.

    I actually hate kids sports and have stopped sending my kids. The parents I met there were all so agressive pushing their kids to be the best and swarming the teacher before and after each class (and these were 5 year olds, just to specify the insanity of it). Also, my kids were so intimidated by this agressive and overly disciplined environment that they hated going and it was a real drag to bring them every week.

    Besides, my kids are in public school, so their schedule is busy enough as it is without me adding to it (even if they picked the hobby themselves). When they’re home I try to give them space to do what they want or we do an activity as a family, like swimming, cycling, hiking etc. (or artistic and cultural activities depending on our mood). This is such an improvement. My kids are excited to do the activity, we get to bond as a family and they get a chance to try a multitude of activities and see what speaks to them, rather than being stuck with one thing for a year. We’ll see when they’re bigger, but 4 and 6 year olds don’t need to know their sort of choice yet IMO. There’s enough time for that later in life.

  5. Hello! Thanks for the great video!

    I really love the new video format! However, I have a technical comments : I find the background music disturbing my listening. With the household noise, kids noise, it’s harder to hear Avital’s voice. I would prefer, music at the beginning and end or adjust it so Avital’s voice is much louder than the background music 🙂

    Amelie, mom of a 3 months and a 3 1/2 boisterous boy

  6. WOW!! The video quality is stunning looks like you are upping your quality game! You model that self-improving competitiveness. Does collaboration happen with siblings close in age? The competitiveness between my 3.5 and 2 yr old is all around the toys.

  7. The best video so far. Well done. Thank you for your insight into sports. I was kind of against team sports but it seems that there is a way for my kids to be part of them in healthy way,if they choose it onse they grow up.

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