Competitive spirit or Do-Your-Best attitude?
I own a company which celebrates performance of students through annual competitions. Two decades ago, when I expanded my business and went to a different continent I was told with full conviction not to have this ‘competition’ segment of our business. Instead, if deemed so necessary — which obviously it was, we were asked to change the terminology from competition to convention, championship, etc. Obviously, we did not agree because firstly, we as promoters strongly believed in the importance of competing and secondly because our headquarters and board would never agree as it was already a global brand. We decided to maintain our annual event name and had not just one, but three annual events marketed — International, National, as well as State/ Provincial level competitions.
So, why in the first place would consultants suggest to take away the word “competition” from a business culture? That’s because general feeling in the education sector is that of doing your best and not get involved in competition. To compete is always linked to being better than someone which somehow doesn’t much sync with the ideologies of many when their children are young. They believe in “doing your best” and not get into peer pressure. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not at all advocating any best practices here. Every culture and nationality have their own way of looking at life and child development. I have observed some parents are obsessed about their child’s academic excellence and would take any extra step to ensure their child is always at the pinnacle of the triangle. Whereas there are some who do not believe in putting any pressure on their children and letting them just do their best. Importance to co-curricular activities, sports, as well as child-development programs also are a must but I believe that in every aspect of life — work, play, or development, competitive spirit and the desire to excel has to be given importance.
Now “desire to excel” can be misinterpreted as “desire to be better” or “be the best”. There are two types of competition. First, competing with one’s own self and trying to keep refining. Do introspection, analysis, comparison, self-appraisal, and keep learning and training one’s own self to be better in all the ‘W’s of SWOT analysis. Other competition is about competing with your colleague, your friend, your competitor, and the world as a whole. My dad used to always tell me when I was young that “…the world is moving forward at such a pace that even if you want to stay constant with the world, you will have to run…”, think of what will be required to do if one wants to excel. The corporate world, the real world outside is all about being better. And being better than others mean competition, and that my dear friend, requires a high degree of competitive spirit.
And there is a negative side of this competitive spirit too. I have seen many parents giving away their children to the trainers/ instructors saying we need them to become champions and come first. Do whatever is needed but we want this to happen “at any cost”. Now this, I find it too disturbing. Children should be just made to understand the importance of participation and doing their best. The ‘extra’ effort could get them awards and recognition, but forcing them to become Champions, etc. that’s not worth appreciation. This type of pressure kills the basic aim of competitions. Competition is doing your best and giving that extra something to get the edge. Always believe in the process and the journey leading up to the event. Even if only 25% of participants win awards, it’s a fact that 100% of students have benefitted by just participating and taking up the journey. And then there is a risk factor of creating a habit of winning. The child does not learn the act of failure and this absence of grace can be very dangerous. One can never always win and learning to accept failures and then improve upon it is an integral part of life.
To summarize I would strongly advocate the fighting spirit that I see in young children and adults and it gives me goose bumps to see the spirit of competitiveness and subsequently the joy and pride in these children and young adults when their efforts convert into awards and recognition. The onus lies on the parents to make the distinction between being competitive and being complacent. For me “do your best and don’t worry about the rest” is an easy way out of the responsibility, time, and effort that a parent will have to show towards the child. I am, as you would have judged me by now, a true believer of competition. Though I am perfectly fine with my children losing out and not winning in competitions, I still believe in the spirit of competing and giving that extra — because as has been famously quoted by the American Coach, Jimmy Johnson, “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that ‘little extra’.”