Raising Capable Kids in a Competitive Setting

IMG_5328 So, if everyone in your class gets an A, what will you work on next semester? I asked of the PE teacher I addressed in the previous post Why All A’s is Failing Our Kids? “Integrity. Respect. Confidence. Protecting others,” he replied.

How would he grade those? He didn’t really know.

That’s because character is meant to develop organically, within the classroom, gym, or on the playing field, among teammates and opponents, and as a part of exercises, games and assessments. It’s not ‘let’s see who is skilled’ and then ‘let’s see who played fair.’ It’s both together or nothing at all.

This goes wrong when our grade-inflated nation separates competitive pursuits from the character equation. When an A is the only acceptable grade, kids (and their parents) find ways to make this happen – the end very much needing to justify its means.

Onlookers say, oh that competitive environment in youth sports, that’s not healthy for our kids. Look what the win-at-all-costs is costing our kids. Those parents. Those coaches. Those tournaments. They’re ruining everything.

IMG_1832I don’t see competition as the problem here. It’s not ruining our kids who want to win. Competition, done well and played fairly while holding participants to the highest standards for behavior and performance, is great for our kids. If we let it be. We have to trust the game to be the teacher and help kids learn its lessons.

At this point in the discussion, I usually have a few parents who floundered in elementary school PE class and have been scarred by the ostracism it caused. They, understandably, want to save their kids from this embarrassment. This is where I believe that PE teachers can be the better that’s needed, especially for these kids.

Physical education is about educating, physically. It’s not just about who is best at soccer or badminton or flag football. It’s about learning the skills to play these games AND developing healthier bodies, minds and habits. Whole class winner-take-all games don’t serve this purpose. Stronger, bigger, more athletic kids will shine and smaller, shyer, beginning players will step back and let them.

That scenario doesn’t serve any of the kids well. All of our kids need honest and objective evaluation of their skills, abilities and character traits. This gives them something against which to measure their performance and improvement next time, next game, or next semester. This is as true in physical education as it is in math, science, social studies or English. If I “need improvement” or am “below average,” then I must find the motivation to be better. When I perform better, the grade I earn should reflect this.

In the “Everyone gets an A” class, like on the “Everyone gets a trophy team,” improvement is stifled because performance has no value.

Kids discover how capable they can be when these things happen:

  1. They know what is expected and are held to high standards for behavior and performance.
  2. Skills and behavior are assessed consistently and fairly according to established standards for age and gender.
  3. They receive regular feedback about their performance and are given instruction and the opportunity to improve.
  4. Feedback is free from parental pressure or “rescue” efforts.
  5. Communication is open, honest and honorable.*

For our kids to learn life lessons, they need to receive honest evaluation and then be left to devise their own reply, response or re-assessment. Competing in sports where everyone participates is a great way for them to learn sport, skill, teamwork and respect for every player. If they’re not best, it’s okay. If they’re their best, that’s sufficient.

At the end of the season, or at the end of the marking period after a challenging class, I’ll bet integrity, respect, confidence and protecting others are among the things they’ve learned. Way more than winning, those things will propel them toward performing well in the field of their choice.

That will likely be a very wide field that, within its boundaries, rewards accuracy, persistence, endurance and heart. It would be nice to think, as parents, coaches and teachers, that we had a hand in growing that up.

*If a coach or teacher is unwilling to give feedback or be in communication about an evaluation, an administrator or director may need to be called in.

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