Recently I was helping out at my daughter’s sport class at school. The children, all aged around five, were learning/practising ball skills. They were in teams of six, learning to play one of those games for kids like tunnel ball, where they took turns throwing and catching to the head of the line then running around their group.
The children were loving this game, smiling, laughing, being careful to catch the ball, throwing the balls gently, taking care not to throw them too far/hard/high, looking at the person throwing the ball to them, waiting patiently for their turn in the line, running safely through the narrow gaps between each team… you get the drift, it was a pleasure to watch.
Sure, a few balls went spiralling out of control, but when that happened, the child who had dropped it just went straight after it, picked it up with no fuss and returned to their spot in the game.
And then it changed. The sport teacher told the children they were going to now have a race: they were going to play the same game, but this time, the first team to have everyone crouched down, having had a turn throwing and catching and running, would win.
The teacher called “Ready, set, go!” – and pretty much all hell broke loose.
Balls were dropped on the child in fronts’ head. That child would yell back abusively. The run-around-the-team part became a ball game of ‘let’s see how many other children we can crash into’ – many of the boys particularly ‘enjoyed’ this one. Other children on the run tripped over their feet, and bumped into the nearby brick wall. The balls that had been dropped took two or three goes to retrieve – when the children went to pick them up in the rush, they would accidentally kick the ball another few metres away. Some were even prone to further dropping the ball on their way back into the game after having retrieved it.
Then, when the first team had all crouched down and called “Finished!”, another round of shouting began as the children who had been bumped into by the winning team’s members retaliated, accusing them of cheating, hurting them, not running in the right direction, and interfering with their own team.
There were no smiles, no simple pleasure at having been able to catch a ball and throw it back to be caught again. The laughter had stopped, replaced with angry looks at one another.
Some of the children in the ‘losing’ teams didn’t even get to have their turn as they were at the end of the line and once the winning team finished, the game was over. These children looked sad or left out but said nothing; others yelled that it wasn’t fair they didn’t get to have a go.
I did notice there were a few children amongst the chaos who stayed still, able to put the same care into catching the ball, throwing and running during the race as they had during practice. At the end of the lesson, these kids simply skipped off with each other, held hands, and stood in the line quietly, waiting to return to their classroom. But the majority of the class looked angry, were still talking loudly about the race, and taking a long time to get into the line. The classroom teacher by this point began raising her voice at the stragglers to get in line, and looked thoroughly frustrated.
I then saw the next class of five year olds arrive at the sports ground. They assumed their positions in the game, standing in their teams of six, ball in hand, etc., ready to start the same thing all over again…
Healthy competition? I don’t think so. We’re told sport is ‘healthy competition’, but there was nothing healthy about the chaos I saw unfold once the race was called. When it became about winning and not the (activity) ball game itself, something very ugly and destructive came through.
Competition teaches us to be all that we can ‘do’ – it’s never about who we are, and never about being all that we are. Competition erases the knowingness of who we are, that we all have as small children, as we are pitted against one another and heralded for being able to do more / better than another. Is it not possible that we all have skills in different areas and that we can each bring our own particular skill/expression to the table for all to share in, learn from and build upon?
Education needs to focus on equity, cooperation and freedom for each and every child, so they can choose for themselves how they wish to express themselves. With this freedom, and by eliminating the need to compete, we would all benefit as each child naturally brings something different but equally amazing to society.
What would it be like then if competition (including sport) focussed on equity, cooperation and freedom for each and every child, so they could choose for themselves how they wished to express themselves? Perhaps then, and with this freedom, there would not be the chaos and competition that occurs now when a simple ball game becomes a race.
Inspired by the work of Universal Medicine and Serge Benhayon.
By Suzanne Anderssen, Brisbane
Wow what a difference, I wonder if the teacher noticed the behavioral changes in the children?
Competition does not feel pleasant in the body, makes me feel anxious and stressed out and/or invites judgement into the moment. It separates and disconnects us from each other. Certainly not healthy.
I wonder if the teacher learned this lesson from the children.
There is no equality in competition and perhaps that is why even the winners feel the emptiness of what they have achieved once the initial euphoria is over and hence why they are always having to strive for the next win at great expense to their body and general wellbeing.
A great example of the effect of competition and the ripple effect that this has thereafter. The quality of connection, quality of relationships and how we feel within ourselves, all affected. Harmless fun? I think not,
One day we will wise up to what competition does to us as children but that won’t be for some time yet, but I for one welcome that day. It’s horrible to watch how young children change when you bring in competition.
I’ve watched kids completely change and become totally anxious and nervous when I’ve turned something into a race. If we care all about our kids welfare and content-ness it’s time we dropped the saying that “competition is healthy” and changed it to “competition is unhealthy”.
Anything that is not love is not good for our health and competing against one another is certainly part of that. I really can’t think of anything that could contribute to our health with wanting to be more or better than others.
Competition crushes the truth of brotherhood. It doesn’t allow us to feel that united we can move mountains and that winning or loosing is just the same as being right or wrong and that is not what love is all about. We are all here to learn to learn one thing – love and competition doesn’t add anything to this learning.
Competition erases who we truly are and makes it all about what we can do, ‘Competition teaches us to be all that we can ‘do’ – it’s never about who we are, and never about being all that we are.’
Competition isn’t healthy, it encourages us to go against another- to be better than another, and so create a separation, ‘Healthy competition? I don’t think so. We’re told sport is ‘healthy competition’, but there was nothing healthy about the chaos I saw unfold once the race was called. When it became about winning and not the (activity) ball game itself, something very ugly and destructive came through.’
We need to consider that it’s not actually a natural expression to be competitive, that instead our nature is one of harmony and cooperation. I remember being introduced to competitive sports as a young girl in my first years of primary school, being competitive felt like I had to first fight all of who I am in myself (it felt horrific) before then fighting other children to be the winner.
Yes, to win at all cost and as wars seemingly have followed this same way or is it that wars came first then we played games to practice for being warriors in battle, and now even though we seem to have a some what civilised competition we still fight hard to win on every level. Then the so called game, fighting or ruckus on every level makes it impossible to connected to our child-like-essences and once we start the competitive-ness that contributes to this type of rat-race the one we have made so called normal we become caught in a merry-go-round of life that pulls the wool over our eyes about living in connection with our essence.
This is an extraordinary example of what is being just encouraged but propagated everywhere all throughout our society. one day there will be no competition.
There is a great difference between the wonder of exploring the science of the quality of energy in how we move, interact and connect with ourselves and others and the joy and playfulness that can be celebrated in this activity, in contrast to how the imposition of competition, where there has to be a winner and a loser, annihilates our connection to the wonder of who we are and is in fact all -round abusive.
This really highlights that when we lose ourselves and live in anxiousness and competition with each other, this hurts us all and issues then perpetuate themselves. Because we are not connected to ourselves, things don’t flow, then we are not connected with others and this leads to issues and problems playing out between people and if they are in the same stuff it is exacerbated and it grows and continues.
” By eliminating the need to compete, we would all benefit as each child naturally brings something different but equally amazing to society”
One day in the future sport and competition will be looked back on as crazy and harmful as we know; look back on the ability to punch children with the cane. Exercise and play yes – these are amazing forms of learning – competition on the other hand does nothing but foster anxiety and separation.
“When it became about winning and not the (activity) ball game itself, something very ugly and destructive came through.” wow what an insight in to the harm of competition and the losing of our natural joy and simplicity.
Super inspiring article Suzanne. Isn’t this the same in the business world? Where competition is a given. Basically also with a lot of chaos, frustration when people not win, with ugly faces and no cooperation.
I would imagine competition is competition everywhere – same colour.
‘Education needs to focus on equity, cooperation and freedom for each and every child, so they can choose for themselves how they wish to express themselves. ‘ This is the way that education would benefit not only the children that are going through it but the whole of society because they would be the adults of the future who would be expressing themselves in their own unique way and not feeling the need to compete with anyone else.
It is our true nature to work together, yet education often pitches us against one another and this knocks out this natural impulse. It makes sense why children go into anxiety when they start school, because their bodies are being asked to do something that is not natural for them.
Competition is a harm for both parties. Therefore it can not be true success or joy. When someones wins, someone looses and feels less of worth or succes – that can never ever be love. Neither does it support one or another. Competition is not healthy for us, no matter how good we make it look..
And here we are again another extraordinary sideshow… The Winter Olympics is on. And it is as if the spectacles must get together and bigger and brighter and brighter to keep people entertained and indeed distracted from the essence of what is going on. Competition and separation.
People love this as it provides an escape from life and a moment to ‘check out’ and not full all the pressures they are facing, this is why this gets so much airplay and what is really going on in the world doesn’t- supply and demand- truth and responsibility are not currently being called for.
Whilst reading the part of this blog about when the children were told to make their ball game into a competition I could feel my body getting into a bit of an anxiousness at just the thought of it. This is what we are imposing on our kids when we reinforce an importance on competition and outdoing another to feel better about yourself at the expense of the ‘loser’. But the real losers are all of us when we don’t honour each other for who we are, but focus instead on what we can do to prove ourselves to another. A complete waste of time and energy, and a way of life destined to end in separation to others.
It is so true, that competition is a virus that has spread throughout the world, tainting everything in its path. Whatever we can do to arrest the spread of this, whatever role models we can provide is absolutely essential right now.
Wow this really reflects the change when competition is introduced. It is as if we forget the harmonious relationships we have with people and we go into a survival mode. And yet this does not support anyone – it does not reflect people working together or supporting each other. And yet it is built into our education.
True, the focus becomes on the outcome and not on the quality of the interactions and our own quality. Its like in situations like this we leave ourselves and focus on the ‘end goal’. This also highlights why outcome based education does not work- as when you put a very specified end point it does not allow a process of learning and discovering but is simply regurgitating what another determines as important but is not necessarily the knowledge you need to grow.
Competition seeks to annihilate the joy of brotherhood through the illusion that winning is what gives us something to be proud of, yet merely identifying us so we receive some kind of sense of value. However, there is far more enjoyment when we share together in playfulness, and in appreciation of the natural fun we have when we are open to play with each other in togetherness.
I wonder what is the educational purpose of bringing competition to learning. I can’t find it, as it only takes children out of their beingness in order to being better than another. ‘Being better’ for arriving first?? This is really crazy and antieducational indeed, as education never can come from comparison, but from the confirmation, growing and expression of who each child genuinely is, and this is not possible looking outside, but by going within and expanding their inner wisdom from their uniqueness. No competition needed.
Yes, I see your point. If every child is appreciated for the unique quality that they bring, then there can be no competition because there would be no need for anyone to prove themselves as better than anyone else as each person would or potentially could feel valued just for being who they are and therefore just the simple act of turning up is enough.
A great blog, research and evidence right here with 5 year olds. Most 5 year olds are still very open to all around them. You couldn’t be bias with these results or fudge them. Proof is in the pudding that sport is not healthy. Since I myself have honoured being tender I too could not play sport as I instantly become aggressive. You cannot think or try not to be aggressive if your committing 100% to competition.
This is a really great observation of what happens in education when we start comparing and measuring kids against each other. It kills their natural openess and way of being with each other. Our true nature is to care for and support others and children are amazing at this but the way in which we educate them shuts this down and gets them to compete with each other.
I remember on a sports day in my junior high school some girls decided it would be more fun to hold their hands together while they ran rather than having who came first, second… the last etc. Nothing more was meant. They were just too giggly to take anything too serious. And I remember feeling rather exposed that I was so invested in running faster. I felt so uncool for being so serious.
Wow Fumiyo, what a great aha moment for you.
Maybe this is the way out of our competitive spirit – where one by one we fail to take competition serious, so leaving the most competitive on the shelf, until eventually they too decide it’s not necessary and we all giggle our way forward.
It is very interesting to see and feel the difference moving with ourselves and enjoying the moment compared to moving for a goal or a prize or a task. I know for myself my movements are like you described in the children, rushed, bumping into things, very unsettled and anxious. None of that occurs when I am focusing on how I am moving and how it makes me feel inside.
Yes agreed. My daughter shared with me how easy it is for her to run around the oval at school when it’s play time, but how difficult it becomes in her lungs and breathing when she is forced to do it as part of sport class, being yelled at to go faster, or as it is commonly known as ‘motivated’.
This is a great observation and I have read this article before. Someone should do a study on this and the relationship between a group of children’s natural play and then the difference if there is any when competition is introduced. As the article exposes the ingredients were the same and yet the results were extremely different. It’s great to read about this and would be even greater to see it studied. With a focus on children, health and exercise it would be great to see as I said a true study that included how the children feel at different levels. In fact I will contact someone and see if this is something that is possible.
I’ve been involved in children’s physical activity for a long time, it is actually hard to find many games listed that are not about competition, as the pull is always to make it competitive. I’m not sure why because when I observe the kids, particularly the young ones they are having much more fun just being active than they are trying to win, which normally just makes them anxious, uptight, and unpleasant to be in the company of.
This is a brilliant blog Suzanne that clearly illustrates how competition completely removes the joy from our quality of play and interactions. I also cannot but feel how reflective your playground experience with little adults plays out in our workplaces with big adults every day.
I’ve had lengthy discussion with colleagues about competition, and there is a strong desire to make games competitive, even for under 5’s. I wonder who that is really serving, because it certainly isn’t benefiting the children I have seen, who are not pushing for competition themselves. So why are we as adults imposing this. I guess it is because it is what we got taught, and this misguided notion that life is competitive so we better make everything like that.
it is drilled in to us when we are children that sports and competition go hand in hand and that it builds resilience if you can be a good sports person from this way of moving. I only ever remember a lot of name calling, pushing and shoving and aggression that often ensued when we played sport and found it really disconcerting and too aggressive for me usually opting to sit out or stay further in the background to avoid being targeted as a weakling. Competition just separates us and sets in motion a wave of recognition for what you have achieved and not for who you are. Seeing sport more as a movement from your whole bodies connection and how it feels to move feels so much more lovely and the tension and harshness found in competition has no where to run when we move from the flow of the body. If we move in this way imagine how we can inspire children to move too.
Over the years I’ve heard the term “healthy competition” many times. Working in corporate I hear about how this company or that works to be “number 1”. In my mind there is no such thing as healthy completion. It is inherently unhealthy as it has to have a winner and a loser, it has to have a focus on being better than another, it has to remove the true purpose of whatever the goal is, and instead focus on winning.
The consciousness of sport and what it means to ‘win’ is without a doubt harmful in more ways than one. Even in the choice to enter or say ‘yes’ to the competition instantly changes our bodies physiology in preparation to fight, as we have chosen to separate from another and deem them as the enemy. How can this be healthy, and what are we teaching our children? We normalise this behaviour and then are surprised at how there can be war in the world, when we advocate engaging this behaviour from a very young age. Winning is defeating another. Defeating another is to overpower another who is equal in essence. And this is what the consciousness of sport delivers us, through the illusion that it is an enjoyable and healthy activity to win or watch on as the battle to overpower another is fought.
Reading this reminded me of the days I used to compete – there was no time for fun. I could feel the tension on the netball court and from there on the fun was taken out from any sports I participated in. It was about winning, certificates, trophies and there were no such things as being a ‘good’ loser – we were seen as ’bad’ losers and our teacher would make it known to us so we would strive to do better – very destructive and continued for many years later. It took the fun out of sports and it is so visible in televised sports.
Life and play is truly beautiful, but both get ugly quite quickly when competition is introduced, this is taking us away from our true essence showing us that we need to perform to be okay or accepted.
It’s clear from your description Suzanne that one competition entered it was about 1 group being better than another, which means those who do not win are less than. It’s a vast difference from what you described initially as the children were simply playing together and enjoying the fun of this.
‘Balls were dropped on the child in fronts’ head. That child would yell back abusively. The run-around-the-team part became a ball game of ‘let’s see how many other children we can crash into’
It goes to show how severely our movement is interrupted and impacted by competitione – big or small – it’s something that is in fact completely foreign to us.
Healthy competition, I don’t think so either Suzanne. Thank you for exposing the harmful impact of competition on our children; in fact on us all. Sadly competition is rife in all levels and aspects of our society. Beautiful that you could identify another way of participating in sport into the school.
It was great what you were able to observe and share with us Suzanne, the difference was quite amazing, seeing the children having fun just playing the ball game and the marked difference in the children when competition came into play. Competition these days is in just about everything, with the need for recognition separating us into winners and losers.
What a great example of the consequences of competition being introduced to children at such an early age. Then if their connection to it continues this competitive feeling may stay with them as they grow, being brought into everything they do as an adult. I didn’t play a lot of sport as a child and young person, but when I beat someone, as in a game of tennis, I did not enjoy it one little bit and in fact I am sure that sometimes I let my opponent win as I didn’t want them to feel less than me. Children naturally know how to play together in harmony so why do most adults think that they know better and that competition is good for them; this is one accepted normal that needs demolishing – and fast!
This says it all Suzanne… and this is only a small snippet of what happens when we move in competition. Imagine a whole lifetime of trying to ‘win’, ‘be the best at something’, or ‘trump others’.
A clear example of how the energy of competition causes disruption and separation.
It is disturbing and sad to read how the children changed when asked to compete against each other – many teachers would have seen the same thing over and over, and yet it is still championed as a good thing.
It very much is like a switch is flicked when we turn anything into a competition. It’s like our brains immediately get ready to try extra hard, to focus, to win, to be the best for that moment of glory, that moment where we might get the chance to be the one who won that thing. It’s crazy when we think about how much it doesn’t actually change anything about who we are. And if anything it just gives us another opportunity to either feel down on ourselves because we did not win, or better about ourselves momentarily because we measured up to something. Not sustainable in my view.
Gosh, so much we take for granted. I’m actively being more conscious of observing our behaviours, and it’s really fascinating how quickly the energy in a room changes depending on who has brought what with them.
Suzanne this is a great example how competition brings in complication and disrupts what was a perfectly enjoyable game of ball, and how we as adults have a responsibility not to bring in the disruptive competitive behaviour either as a game or by reflection.
I recently attended a social event with some colleagues. Everyone was looking forward to it. Enjoyable practice laps around a track driving at your own speed. But soon the focus became rating people’s performance. After each round results were put up on the screen and each person also received marks and charts of their performance. It was quite shocking to see the interactions slowly change from friendly banter and people sharing their enjoyment and experience of the ride, to more rowdy interactions with people simply comparing their performance to others and many trying to justify their position on the scale. The individual distress was also palpable in most people as they tried to make sense of all the marks and figures on their individual papers. In a short period of time I saw how competition is not healthy in adults as well as in children.
I continue to see examples of how turning something into a competition sucks the joy or simple fun out of the activity.
it is always good to observe how insidious competition is… To observe the seeds of it planted so early in us, and then watch how this most unhealthy fruit comes to bare in our lives in our societies and in our cultures
I agree Suzanne competition is not healthy. It creates a drive outside of you that then is strived for. Winning places you better than another – a division, same with a loser. We are designed to work in harmony with each other not in competition.
I have witnessed similar scenarios and I agree when the competitive element is brought in it changes everything, and just as you show here, not for the better.
It’s crazy that we inspire our children to compete, and to me it could easily be called child abuse, but I guess we are far from that. Imagine if we got to the point where encouraging your child or anyone else to be competitive was considered abusive. That would be the day!