Compete to Excel

Gauri Chhabra
Life is a series of tests and results. Anxiety and euphoria. Every test whether it is XII Board or AIEEE or NEET or any other ends with how much did my child score v/s how much did your child score? It boiled down to as long as my child scored more than yours it is alright. The media painted stories of success of students who had been among the top rung of the ladder. How had they prepared? Coaching institutes rushed to make them their students. That set me thinking… How many of the students who are average scorers might wallow in self- pity today? When will the nation, nay their own family and friends turn its gaze on them? Are marks the only criteria of intelligence? Are schools the breeding grounds of competition? Are we competing to win or competing to excel? The former breeds negativity and frustration whereas the latter breeds positivity and passion.
Now the question arises – Is competition harmful? Well it depends…
If Competition simply means that one person can succeed only if others fail, it proves to be very harmful.
When it comes to competition, we typically recognize only two legitimate positions: success and failure.
It all started when…
We played games of exclusion and making one child win. Consider one of the first games we as children played: musical chairs. Take away one chair and one child in each round until one smug winner is seated and everyone else has been excluded from play. You know that sour birthday party scene; the needle is lifted from the record and someone else is transformed into a loser, forced to sit out the rest of the game with the other unhappy kids on the side. That’s how we had fun and turned play fields into battle fields.
Slowly we passed it on to our progeny. We have been so obsessed with success that we feel the more we immerse our children in rivalry, the better. We have gotten so carried away with the need to be Number One, that we push our kids too hard and too fast to become winners.
Below are the side effects of competition
Competition plaques self-esteem
Most people lose in most competitive encounters, and it’s obvious why that causes self-doubt. But even winning doesn’t build character; it just lets a child gloat temporarily. Your value is defined by what you’ve done. Worse — you’re a good person in proportion to the number of people you’ve beaten. It starts from schools where a child is told that it isn’t enough to be good — he must triumph over others. Success comes to be defined as victory, even though these are really two very different things. Even when the child manages to win, the whole affair, psychologically speaking, becomes a vicious circle: The more he competes, the more he needs to compete to feel good about himself.
When I made this point on training session my objections were waved aside by the parents of a seven-year-old badminton champion named Rahul, who appeared on the program with me. Rahul had been used to winning ever since a badminton racket was put in his hands at the age of two. But at the very end of the show, someone in the audience asked him how he felt when he lost. Rahul lowered his head and in a small voice replied, “Ashamed.”
Competition sucks productivity
I have observed organizations and can safely say that productivity in the workplace deflates as a result of competition. Trying to be Number One distracts people from what they’re supposed to be learning in the process of doing. It may seem paradoxical, but when you work only for an appraisal, you concentrate so hard on it that you lose focus on what you are doing. The result: Performance declines.
Competition fractionizes
When we look at the results and say 25 students out of 125 got a 10 CGPA, we are actually creating a class divide – of winners and losers. Competition makes it difficult to regard others as potential friends or collaborators; even if you’re not my rival today, you could be tomorrow.
Competition precipitates hostility
By definition, not everyone can win a contest. If one child wins, another cannot. This means that each child comes to regard others as obstacles to his own success: this is the real lesson children learn in a competitive environment.
Competitors will always hate and envy each other. But trying to outdo someone is not conducive to trust — indeed, it would be irrational to trust someone who gains from your failure. At best, competition leads one to look at others through narrowed eyes; at worst, it invites outright aggression. Existing relationships are strained to the breaking point, while new friendships are often nipped in the bud.
When children compete, they are less able to take the perspective of others — that is, to see the world from someone else’s point of view.
What can we do?
Competition is destructive to children’s self-esteem, it interferes with learning, sabotages relationships, and isn’t necessary to have a good time.
But how do you raise a child in a culture that hasn’t yet caught on to all this?
There are no easy answers here. But there is one clearly unsatisfactory answer: Make your son or daughter competitive in order to fit into the “real world.” That isn’t desirable for the child — for all the reasons given here — and it perpetuates the poison of competition in another generation.
Children can be taught about competition, prepared for the destructive forces they’ll encounter, without being groomed to take part in it uncritically. They can be exposed to the case against competition just as they are taught the harms of drug abuse or reckless driving.
You will have to decide how much compromise is appropriate so your child isn’t left out or ridiculed in a competitive society. But at least you can make your decision based on knowledge about competition’s destructiveness. You can work with other parents and with your child’s teachers and coaches to help change the structures that set children against one another. Or you may want to look into cooperative schools and summer camps.
As for reducing rivalry and competitive attitudes in the home-Avoid comparing a child’s performance to that of a sibling, a classmate, or yourself as a child. Don’t use contests, “Who can dry the dishes fastest?” around the house. Watch your use of language “Who’s the best little girl in the whole wide world?” that reinforces competitive attitudes. Never make your love or acceptance conditional on a child’s performance.
Be aware of your power as a model. If you need to beat others, your child will learn that from you regardless of what you say. The lesson will be even stronger if you use your child to provide you with vicarious victories.
This is not to say that children shouldn’t learn discipline and tenacity, that they shouldn’t be encouraged to succeed or even have a nodding acquaintance with failure. But none of these requires winning and losing — that is, having to beat other children and worry about being beaten. When classrooms and playing fields are based on cooperation rather than competition, children feel better about themselves. They work with others instead of against them, and their self-esteem doesn’t depend on cracking the Board exam.
So,teach your children to compete to excel, not to let others down…