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Thursday, April 7, 2011

On the soccer field or the stage, healthy competition isn't about 'winning'

Today, the "competitive" DC SCORES elementary school soccer season will begin (map, games at 4pm). However, while many people align competing with a win-or-fail mentality, our coaches teach their teams (regardless of age) healthy competition -- with the focus on improving as a team and "winning" a byproduct. Have a great season, everyone!

Written by Amy Nakamoto
Executive Director

“Competition” can impart some of the most important lessons young people will learn in life. Healthy competition should leave students hungrier and wanting to improve; it should promote strengths in a way that motivates participants to improve upon weaknesses; it has the ability to be appropriately humbling; and it has the ability to honor those who truly have worked hard and creatively to achieve their goals.

There is a fine line, though, between healthy competition and a win-at-all-costs mentality. Just as there is a fine line between healthy competition and bestowing trophies and praise to everybody so as not to make anybody feel ‘bad.’ At DC SCORES, we aim to walk this tight rope and strike this balance.

Healthy competition should be a part of a program’s culture throughout the year. At DC SCORES, writing and soccer coaches are trained in youth development principles that push students, yet are supportive. We set expectations and pathways to meet them, which is integral to developing a healthy competitive mindset.

Last of all, and perhaps the most important, we convey to young people that “winning” is dependent on focusing on what one can control. To that end, healthy competition begins with how we, as adults, frame what we are teaching and how we promote continual improvement, no matter if you are already the strongest writer in the class or the least talented soccer player on the team.

Continual improvement is about outdoing yourself and not always gauging success against an opponent, and it is about looking inward versus outward when mistakes are made or setbacks endured.

When students are on stage at the Poetry Slam! or playing for the Capital Cup Championship, our goal is for students to arrive at those venues knowing they worked their hardest as individuals and teams to achieve their goals. The ‘healthy competition’ is the byproduct of a season’s or year’s worth of smaller healthy competitions.

A referee’s call or judge’s score does not make or break the experience at this point.

While the disappointment is hard to witness when a team ‘loses’ in a close competition, I know it is a short-term phenomenon and an emotion and experience that will drive that student or team to work even harder at their next opportunity. 
This is healthy competition to me – winning becomes the byproduct of hard work and continual improvement and ‘losing’ is a tool, a mere component or rite-of-passage in developing a competitive, winning mindset.

In addition to her role with DC SCORES, Amy Nakamoto has been a Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) trainer for almost 10 years and was selected as a 2010 Sports Ethics Fellows by the Institute for International Sport and PCA for leadership in the areas of fair play and sportsmanship.

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