Is Competition Good For Kids?

Yes, it is.

Let us face it. The world of adults is one of competition. Unless one learns how to compete, to lose and win gracefully and accept that one cannot win all the time, life can be living hell. Such learning can be learnt in childhood by games and sports as well as competitive academic achievements.

Such learning also teaches that when one competes, one does so with rivals and not enemies. This ability to differentiate will also lay the foundation, hopefully, for healthy relationships in adulthood.

Here is one very touching story that I have read many times that explains what competition is all about, how children can be team players as well as magnanimous and more importantly what even adults can learn from it. I even checked for its veracity and found that it really is a true story.

In Brooklyn, New York, Chush is a school that caters to learning disabled children. Some children remain in Chush for their entire school career, while others can be mainstreamed into conventional schools.
At a Chush fund-raising dinner, the father of a Chush child delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended.
After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he cried out, “Where is the perfection in my son Shaya? Everything God does is done with perfection. But my child cannot understand things as other children do. My child cannot remember facts and figures as other children do. Where is God’s perfection?”
The audience was shocked by the question, pained by the father’s anguish, stilled by the piercing query.
” I believe,” the father answered, “that when God brings a child like this into the world, the perfection that he seeks is in the way people react to this child.”
He then told the following story about his son Shaya:
One afternoon Shaya and his father walked past a park where some boys Shaya knew were playing baseball.
Shaya asked, “Do you think they will let me play?”
Shaya’s father knew that his son was not at all athletic and that most boys would not want him on their team. But Shaya’s father understood that if his son was chosen to play it would give him a comfortable sense of belonging.
Shaya’s father approached one of the boys in the field and asked if Shaya could play. The boy looked around for guidance from his teammates. Getting none, he took matters into his own hands and said “We are losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we’ll try to put him up to bat in the ninth inning.”
Shaya’s father was ecstatic as Shaya smiled broadly. Shaya was told to put on a glove and go out to play short center field.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shaya’s team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shaya’s team scored again and now with two outs and the bases loaded with the potential winning run on base, Shaya was scheduled to be up. Would the team actually let Shaya bat at this juncture and give away their chance to win the game? Surpassingly, Shaya was given the bat.
Everyone knew that it was all but impossible because Shaya didn’t even know how to hold the bat properly, let alone hit with it. However as Shaya stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shaya should at least be able to make contact.
The first pitch came in and Shaya swung clumsily and missed. One of Shaya’s teammates came up to Shaya and together the held the bat and faced the pitcher waiting for the next pitch. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly toward Shaya. As the pitch came in, Shaya and his teammate swung at the bat and together they hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher.
The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could easily have thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shaya would have been out and that would have ended the game. Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc to right field, far beyond reach of the first baseman.
Everyone started yelling,”Shaya, run to first. Run to first.” Never in his life had Shaya run to first. He scampered down the baseline wide-eyed and startled. By the time he reached first base, the right fielder had the ball. He could have thrown the ball to the second baseman who would tag out Shaya, who was still running. But the right fielder understood what the pitcher’s intentions were, so he threw the ball high and far over the third baseman’s head. Everyone yelled, “Run to second, run to second.” Shaya ran towards second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases towards home. As Shaya reached second base, the opposing short stop ran to him, turned him in the direction of third base and shouted, “Run to third.” As Shaya rounded third, the boys from both teams ran behind him screaming, “Shaya run home.”
Shaya ran home, stepped on home plate and all 18 boys lifted him on their shoulders and made him the hero, as he had just hit a “grand slam” and won the game for his team.
“That day,” said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, “those 18 boys reached their level of God’s perfection.”

This topic was suggested for this week’s 2 on 1 Friday blog post by Shackman whose take on the subject can be found over at his blog. Please do go over and see. He may well have a different take!


20 thoughts on “Is Competition Good For Kids?”

  1. A nice story. If only more people were that considerate of those who are disadvantaged.

    I’m not that keen on competition myself. It can lead to all sorts of dubious behaviour as people try to get ahead by any means possible. Are politicians, journalists, estate agents, or car salesmen all the better for being in competition with one another? I don’t think so. The alternative is for individuals to set their own standards and goals and try to achieve them.

    1. One cannot avoid competition in life and the moral fibre of the person competing, to be fair is what hopefully kids learn when they compete in schools. If the base is rotten, it would show up in adulthood any way.

  2. Well said by Nick.

    And I would add – kids have no idea of the real world when everyone is a winner in their school years. Then they walk into university with a sense of entitlement and slam into reality in a big way. Or into a job.

    the lovely story that you cite is far from reality, sadly.


  3. tears in my eyes.
    life is so complicated now by all the philosophical and psychological points that the experts know about. what causes this and that. and often they’re opposing.
    but I know one thing.
    kindness is simple. a little boy in need of feeling he belonged. that maybe he was just once a part of the team of his comrades. that surely can’t be all bad.
    I often complain that I live in one of the most competitive countries in the world.
    and I get so tired of it. I know it’s helpful in many ways. but it also is ruthless in its abhorrence of simply allowing people to BE. just who they are. and to accept them.
    in our competition we have destroyed the balance of nature and we’re paying for it. surely there’s a happy medium!
    great post Sean. xo

    1. Being competitive need not preclude one from being kind to others. I think that this is what good teachers instil in their wards during their school days. I did say that they hopefully learn the difference between rivals and enemies!

  4. We are on the same page on this one. Great story too. Back in high school, when we had to choose teams in PE the coaches usually made school athletes team captains and we had to pick the teams. We’ve all known or heard of kids who were always chosen last – the geeky, super smart nonathletic – well I chose them first. Now the skeptical reader might suspect the dumb jock was simply ensuring homework help but no – just having fun in PE class.

  5. there is competition and competition – my original thought as I saw your opening sentences was “no, it’s not good”

    I grew up with many disabilities in my way, I never had many chances. I remember at twilight sports (summer only) I would be given a big handicap so that occasionally I might win or be up with the fast people, but it couldn’t be recorded as by the time I had gathered up some sense of run, the others that started say 20 yards behind me were overtaking. I hated every second of those times!

    I had to stay in the shallow end of the swimming pool, because I didn’t have enough leg power to swim the correct strokes…and no one wanted me to get out of my depth

    I never passed many exams, because I couldn’t control my pencil/pen with my shaky hands and sentences were jumbled. I did pass exams later/more recently at Uni because by then the system had acknowledged problems for people and provided extra help – but in the 1950/60s that wasn’t that educators cared about!!!

    If you are smart either sports or academic wise – and you can stay at the top of your game all your life, then I suppose the competition lessons are “good for you…” but maybe you will be like one of my young relatives (he’s older now) but his life skills were shocking..
    Catherine de Seton recently posted..Botanical life relating to Anne Lawson

    1. Growing up with disabilities among normal children can be brutal and now there are strong movements in many countries to make it less troublesome for children with disabilities and even special schools. Another factor is bullying that is receiving a lot of attention and it is the bullies and the bullied that grow up to be misfits in societies.

    1. Let me be honest with you. I stopped being competitive once I could afford to retire. It was tiresome and totally against my nature. I am glad that you liked the story. One of my favourites.

    1. I think that your hope is misplaced. I have little hope for politicians of all hues. They march to different drum beats than us normal mortals. The clip is fascinating to watch. Thank you.

Comments are closed.