We Must Be Competitive, Mustn’t We?

There’s an obsession in America. It’s the fear of losing. Everyone has to do better than everyone else, and their kids have to be better than everyone else’s kids.

According to a report last night on NBC Nightly News, ambitious US parents are hiring ‘sports tutors’ to give their kids a leg-up on the rest of the field. Their aim: to turn kids into super-athletes who can saturate their parent’s egotistical demands by winning glory, and a place for themselves in college.

“Everyone wants their kid to be competitive,” says the mother of one twelve year old attending rigorous, daily, two-hour sessions five days a week at one of the many private sports facilities opening up throughout the nation, as this lucrative business is aggressively marketed to parents – at $35.00 per 2-hour session.

To an observer of life and culture in this country the comment, spoken with such obvious enthusiasm by this mother, encompasses virtually everything wrong with America today. Everybody in the US is competing with everyone else. There is no togetherness, except within families where all are dedicated to doing better than the folks next door, or further down the street.

Competition, the iron core of educational policies in this country for decades, is driving people apart from their neighbors. It’s the reason for those ridiculous car stickers:

“My Kid’s an Honor’s Student”,


“My Gamer Kid Fragged Your Honor Student.”

We’ve all seen them.

At town boundaries throughout America stand old metal signs proclaiming the athletic achievements of once young townspeople, now either long dead or drawing their retirement pensions.

Who cares? Obviously, America cares; but why?

Why is it so important that your kid jumps higher, runs faster, or throws a ball further than the rest of the kids in the school? Is it so you can brag about it to your friends and make them feel inferior because their kids are just no good at sports?

If so, you should be ashamed, and you deserve to have no friends.

Competition is like religion, it segregates and divides, not just this country, but the world. Once, it wasn’t like that. Fifty years ago there was ‘sportsmanship’. It was the taking part, not the winning, that mattered. Professional athletes were barred from the Olympic Games. It was good to win a medal for one’s country, but it was the being there that really counted.

Now, American parents shell out thousands of dollars and ruin their kids’ childhoods by pushing them to limits of physical endurance no child should have to tolerate. All in the name of “Competition”.

There is another way.

Why not take “Competition” out of life altogether, and replace it with “Co-operation”?

Instead of the Jones’s wearing themselves and their kids out, by pushing them relentlessly towards achieving more than the Adams’ kids next door, wouldn’t it be nice if they all cooperated and helped each other to do well?

We could all sport new bumper stickers:

“Cooperation’s Cool, Competition’s for Clods.”

It’s a lesson that could also be carried into other aspects of life: the boardroom, the shop floor, the office, Capital Hill, the White House, attitudes towards other nations…….the list is almost endless.

One day it might even bring peace to this world, and we could all play our games and enjoy taking part – without that obsessive fear of losing.

NOTE: For those unaware of the meaning of the verb “to frag”: “Frag is a term from the Vietnam War, most commonly meaning to assassinate an unpopular member of one’s own fighting unit by dropping a fragmentation grenade into the victim’s tent at night.”

Still think competition is a GOOD thing?

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9 Replies to “We Must Be Competitive, Mustn’t We?”

  1. A little bit of competition is a good thing – you could have people going the other way, as in the UK schools, where Sports Days, at least at primary (under 11 years old) school level, are rapidly a disappearing creature (and those for secondary schools (11-18) are often non-compulsory). The reason for this is that “someone has to lose the race.” Hence, because someone has to come last, and would be upset, no-one is allowed to take part. Therefore, children are coming up through the system without the experience of coming last, of not being the best. And this is a valuable lesson. We compete throughout our adult lives, for a mate, for a job, for the best for our own children. And, many, many times, we don’t win. We don’t get the dream job that we know we are perfect for. The woman/man of our desire laughs in our face. Our college application is refused, and our children don’t get into the school that we’d like for them. If we have had practice at losing, then we can take these disappointments in our stride. They hurt, we get over them. But for someone who has not had the experience of not being the best, the pain as an adult of coming last hurts a lot more, and is more psychologically damaging. (This is incredibly similar to the pain of hurting yourself physically. If you learn to fall and hurt and get up again as a child, it is a lot less scary to fall as an adult. But if you have been wrapped in cotton wool throughout your childhood, then the fear of falling as an adult hurts a lot more than the falling itself.)

    Now, I’m not saying that the excessive competition as shown in your post is right – parents should not be living their own dreams through their children, certainly not forcing them to do something that they don’t want, and that their bodies are not capable of doing. A child who is not sporty will not become so just because a coach shouts at them (and just because they are not good at athletics doesn’t mean that they aren’t good at something else – it took me till I was 25 to find a sport that I enjoyed doing and was moderately good at, which happens to be Tae-Kwon Do…), and they will live to resent the time that they could have been doing something else (playing music, reading books, learning how to cook etc). But to tell them that they should never compete – that isn’t right.

    And now I’ve gone off on a little mini essay, so I shall stop now and actually do some work…


  2. I once saw this program on PBS about the differences between the US and the Mexican culture. Two little girls from each country were told that if they took turns moving a single checker and could get it to the opposite side they would get a prize. The US girls just moved the checker back and forth, making no progress. The Mexican girls instantly took turns moving the checker first to one side, then to the other so that they both could get prizes. Sometimes cooperation makes more sense than competition.

    The free market people would say, look how rich we are and how poor they are. Of course the vast amount of natural resources we have is inconsequential.

  3. One of my spiritual mentors said to me one time that, from birth, we get our babies hooked on a drug and that they rarely lose the addiction.
    It permeates every aspect of their lives from then on, be it boy or girl, with the active encouragement of their parents and teachers, friends and partners.
    The drug?

  4. Oh, Lord, we played dodgeball, we selected teams (yes, I was Last picked, but I’ve grown from that), and even jumpball, but ya know what?

    I am a fine healthy human being. I learned to compete, to lose, to find what I was good at. I grew in the competition. It wasn’t easy or fun, but it was growth.

    I feel for the kids who are deprived of that, I think they are confounded about life, and unprepared for it.

    There ARE winners and losers. But damn, you have to grow beyond that and make the best of what you have.

  5. I began this as a comment to encompass all who commented. Your words are greatly valued and your views respected, even when not necessarily in accord with my own. It soon grew too long to continue as a comment so I had to turn it into a post. You’ll find it above. Please peruse, then feel free to continue the discussion if you so choose.

  6. This post sinks itself on a bogus dichotomy. Competition and cooperation are two bookends of the American culture (or library). My kids came up through youth sports where team work (cooperation) is stressed. Not one of them went through the Boy Scouts of America and activities of similar ilk. They turned out very happy, very successful, and very married. And they are friends with peers who did not come up through athletics. Not one of them is a non-competitive sparrow. They are all hawks. And they all hate Bush. Before it was fashionable. You gotta problem with that?

  7. Anan – thanks for an interesting link. You are right, of course. Many species cooperate on a vast scale, finding it advantageous, or even vital, to their existence.

    Vigilante – yep! I gotta problem with that. Firstly, it’s no ‘bogus dichotomy’. Roget’s lists synonyms for ‘competition’ as ‘antagonism’, ‘contention’, controversy’, plus forty others. It lists only one antonym: ‘cooperation’. ‘Cooperation’ and ‘competition’ are not bookends, they’re in opposition. I would agree that teamwork involves cooperation, but it’s cooperation specifically geared to expanding and concentrating the competitiveness of the unit (team) to make them more effective winners. I would also point out that sparrows survive by living in cooperative groups that coexist in relative harmony. Hawks are lone predators, preying on the weakest, the most defenseless.

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