Kids and competition: when should it start?

Kids and competition: when should it start?

When should a child face the pressure of competition? How young is too young?

First off, I am not anti-competition. Those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile or know anything about me, know that I am sports mom and coach’s wife with competitiveness flowing through my blood. I do believe that kids and competition can go together.

This is not a post about the dangers of competition for kids. It is a post about the dangers of competition for kids that are barely out of pull-ups.

The show Toddlers & Tiarras really started me thinking about it. When I saw those adorable little beauty queens all made up to compete, their moms coaching and pushing them to be in beauty pageants, I began to wonder: what are we doing to our children when we push them into heated competition so early?

The moms on the show were out to win, and I almost wondered who cared more…the competitive parent, or the little girl that didn’t really understand it all but knew she wanted to please Mom and Dad and knew that if she stayed in the competition, she could win more toys?

And when they lost? The moms were complaining about the unfair judging–sounds like some sports parents I know– and the little girls were either sobbing or bewildered.

I am no psychologist, but I am a smart enough mom to know that this kind of pressure on a little child just cannot be healthy.

What should early competition look like?

There is no golden age for your child to participate in competition. You will have to decide that for yourself.  But when you do start your kid in a sport, whether it’s soccer or gymnastics or even dance, the competitive environment should be one that gives your child a fun and pressure-free experience.

Look for these factors:

First of all, your child wants to play.  If your 4 or 5 year old does not want to sign up for a sport, then please don’t make him. What’s the point? If you want him to get exercise, take him to the park to playKids and competition: when should it start?.

Seek coaches who truly love kids and are in it ONLY for the kids.  Not because they want their own child to succeed (every parent does, of course, but that can’t be the only reason for coaching other people’s kids). Not because they know a lot about the sport and want to share their knowledge. Not because no one else will do it.

When a coach loves the kids, that means everything he does for the team is motivated by his desire to do what is best for the kids. Coaches like that are golden. Believe me, as your kids get older, you will run into quite a few that are motivated by a lot of other things.

Coaches who love kids are usually loved by the kids. And when kids love their coach, they are probably going to have a good time.

Find a league that doesn’t keep score. I know this is a tough one for us competitive parents to swallow, and most of us will be keeping track of the score in our head anyway, but when the kids are very small, the most important thing for them to learn about sports, is not how to keep score. They should be learning about exercise, fun, getting along with teammates, and some very basic skills.

Look for a team atmosphere that is positive and light-hearted. Stay away from teams that take themselves too seriously. These are kids, for crying out loud, kids barely past potty-training, and kids who are more interested in what color their jersey is than who their opponent is. There’s plenty of time when they get older to get into serious competition. Don’t wish it on your kids too early. Let your little ones enjoy innocent and light-hearted competition while they can.

Look for parents that feel the same way you do.  If you can find a team for your child to play on whose parents want the same things you do–positive team atmosphere, coaches who love kids, and a league that endorses fun more than points–then sign your kid up. Not only will they have more fun in that environment, you will too.

One more question: What are your motives?

Ask yourself that question when you are debating whether to put your child into sports.

Whatever you do, be sure that you are not pushing your child into anything, be it sports or beauty pageants, because of some deep-seated need that you have to win or be good at something.

But if you are doing it for them–to help them have fun, get exercise, make friends, and maybe find a sport they can enjoy for years–and you find a team, league, and coach that meet your standards, then sign ’em up!


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