Not ‘killing the competition’ in sport but making it fun…

Our second blog article for Sports Think Tank:

As coaches of primary aged children, John Allemang’s starkly headlined article – ‘The case for killing the competition’ [1] – really stood out to us at A-Star Sports.The ‘value of having fun and honing skills over hoisting trophies’ is not about killing the competition completely but opening up more avenues for creative thinking and, ultimately (Allemang writes), about more ‘world-beating skills’.

No children’s sports coaching programme could ever claim to be completely non-competitive.And in an increasingly competitive world, it would be foolish to discount the value of competition altogether.There is a clear distinction to be made between negative and positive competition, particularly in the early phases of exploring and learning in a sporting context.An over-emphasis on winning is detrimental and, as illustrated in the WSFF’s recent report [2], can be particularly off-putting to girls.However, their accompanying PE toolkit helpfully defines ‘positive competition’ as competitive sport that is delivered well, where children can enjoy the ‘clear rules and the chance to take part and play with others’.The challenge to any coach is, of course, nipping negative behaviour in the bud in favour of rewarding in children the same creativity, courage, learning and good grace that we’re looking for from coaches.A tough but not impossible call.

Sports and Recreation New Zealand make a very interesting point in the phases of their ‘NZ Sports and Recreation Pathway’ [3] – that following the Foundation Phase (of learning and exploring), coaches need to provide for ‘dual aspirations’ i.e. both social and competitive participation.It could be argued that coaches need to consider this even during the Foundation Phase as part of understanding motivation and how to create the best possible environment and the most fun for each child.This would be one step closer to the subtleties required to manage ‘the development of skills and positive attitudes in every child [which is] more important than winning every week ([and] does not imply that children should not strive to win)’.

Drilling the creativity out of children with a win-at-all-costs approach can not only damage performance but enjoyment, motivation and a myriad other potential lifelong benefits (particularly those linked with today’s battles against obesity, low self-esteem and poor educational attainment).Losing competition altogether, though, brings its own list of negative effects.The ideal is a balance that allows for positive physical activity that provides children with both role models and choices.

Providing inspiration and advice to our coaches at A-Star Sports [4], Brian Whittle said: ‘Passing on knowledge is teaching, coaching is a relationship.If you are a good coach, you will learn at least as much from your charges as they will from you.’And this is why it’s important to understand each and every child’s motivation, to be able to put sport and competition in its varying guises in a context that works for them.This isn’t about ‘killing the competition’ per se but removing cultural negativities that have been allowed to take hold, in some cases to devastating effect.

Sport can be incredible fun and so can competition.Let’s strive to make that the headline of the future.

Gary and Sharon Bassett (authors of this article) are co-founders, directors and coaches at A-Star Sports, specialising in the delivery of multi-sports to children aged 2-10 years. Gary and Sharon are both graduates of Bangor University and, following careers as an HR Director and Marketing Director respectively, pursued their passion for sports coaching through the development of sports coaching businesses.

[1] ‘The case for killing the competition’ by John Allemang, The Globe and Mail (Canada) –