When I was younger I played a lot of sport and I never played to come second.
I didn’t believe in holding back. Passionate, intense, driven, even combative;
there were a lot of words to describe me. Some positive, others not.
I have incredible sporting memories and most of them revolve around success. I
also have a few I’m not so proud of. That’s the problem with passion. I strongly
believe that competition can drive you to be better. To instill discipline as you
test yourself. To give you goals to work towards. But if left unchecked, it can
also consume you. And make you lose perspective. So when it comes to raising
kids and competition you have to walk a fine line. And when you have twins the
competition is never far away. One of our girls is super competitive. She gets
petulant at losing a coin toss (I’m not exaggerating) or a game of rabbit-carrotgun
(the modern equivalent of paper-rock-scissors apparently). I have to admit
I often struggle with getting the balance of keeping them competitive without
becoming a bad loser but we are having some success.
Last year our girls participated in a tennis tournament as part of their tennis
lessons. As they’re only six, it was more a series of drills for points rather than
matches. Because the groups were done on experience levels rather than
age, the 5 and 6 year olds were also competing against 7 and 8 year olds.
Unsurprisingly, the older kids with more strength and better coordination
scooped the trophies and I have to admit one twin didn’t like losing regardless
of what I said. When it happened again the following quarter it was even worse
as the well-meaning judges pointed out to her she had missed third place
by only two points. Their ‘encouragement’ was not well received. The third
tournament it was another fourth-placed finish – this time by one point.
But it was what happened next that gave me hope. A few weeks before the last
tournament of the year, she disappeared outside each afternoon to practise
drills. She consciously made an effort to really improve. And not only did the
competitive twin pull off a Hollywood story with a first place finish, the other
twin finished second. Now I’m happy about two things here – and neither of
them are about the girls winning. Firstly, it was a great example of effort being
rewarded and of determination and practise equaling improvement. But my
favourite thing was when the winner was announced, the other sister positively
beamed for her sibling. Her trophy seemed irrelevant in that moment.
Nowadays I’m a lot calmer when it comes to games and sport but, do you know
what? I still play hard and to win every time: the only real difference is that if I
do lose now I can smile and be happy for the other person/team. I don’t know if
it’s maturity or a recognition that games are indeed just games but the changed
perspective hasn’t dulled my drive for success. Just my reaction to it. It took me
decades to reach this attitude. Here’s hoping I can teach my kids a little quicker.