Competition Is Healthy
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December, the month of threatening snow forecasts, Advent, wiggly young people, Christmas, and football. This year Americans young and old will probably spend between 5 and 16 hours a week watching football if the Statista survey done in 2011 is still trending accurately. Direct TV offers 11 different 24-hour sports network channels for non-stop fandom and that fixation on competing. Competition draws us and drives us. In 1911, Oscar Herman Benson began awarding accomplishments with 3 and 4 leaf clovers and he is credited with the idea for the logo and the Four H’s; Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. In 4-H, healthy competition breeds targeted life skills found in each of these four focus areas. Using these four H’s, let us look at how competition can be your partner in attaining much needed life skills for the success of today’s youth.
4-H associates the HEAD portion of the leaf with managing and thinking skills. Included in this category are organizing, goal setting, problem solving, decision-making, and learning skills. It is clear that all the competing sports and activities listed earlier contribute to these life skills and without these skills, accomplishment isn’t possible. Define accomplishment, is it winning the game, or meeting and surpassing your personal goal? In a world where “lose” is a bad word, I would say achieving personal goals while working individually or as a team are accomplishments. One message healthy competition can teach is that losing or winning is ok as long as effort is given and lessons are internalized. The world didn’t end with the game.
The HEART leaf represents relating and caring skills like cooperation, social skills, and empathy. Whether watching a game or actively participating we can find teachable moments for our youth. Last month I watched the local winning and losing youth league baseball teams all shake each other’s hands after the game, saying, “Good Game!” I say, good coaching. Devan McGuinness from Parent magazine says, “The key is to ensure the atmosphere promotes constructive competition,” and we are to watch for healthy reactions like asking to participate again and adopting new skills. Our young people can learn to relate and care for those outside their family as they learn to cooperate with and support their team.
The HANDS leaf promotes giving and working where we find skill development like leadership, contributions to a group effort, teamwork and self-motivation. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nothing worth having comes easy”, and the effort in preparing for a science fair makes the result rewarding, the stress to do well on a test encourages us to study, the time spent running laps builds the endurance needed to persevere.
In 4-H the HEALTH leaf is associated with living and being. Safety, stress management, healthy lifestyles, self-discipline, character, responsibility, and self-esteem all fall into this category. In 4-H we teach with a leader/youth model. The young are watching so it’s critical that parents are modeling good sportsmanship on the field and in front of the screen. Do not miss this opportunity to mold the mind of your children with the example you set. Did the umpire really lose the game for us? A parent’s reaction teaches good or bad sportsmanship, points out fault, or accepts responsibility, and builds or tears down self-esteem. When a team player exhibits bad sportsmanship, strengthen your child’s character with this learning opportunity and discuss an appropriate response. When completing that science fair project assignment, ask yourself is winning or learning more important?
Soccer, hockey, volleyball, track, swimming, gymnastics…competition is unavoidable and should be. Use competitive opportunities to be the model, teach your children to win well, lose well, enjoy the game, and the results. Yes, competition is healthy and an opportunity to grow life skills in our youth so they can be the best today and tomorrow. You can find more on 4-H life skills at Targeting Life Skills in 4-H.