Published 5:07 a.m. ET Jan. 17, 2019
As the 4-H Educator, I promote competition. Livestock shows and sales, the new livestock judging team, general project judging, state fair, apple pie contest and auction, outhouse race, lip sync contest, bake review and reviews, nutrition judging, booth decorating, the Halloween Campout contests, the list goes on and on. I would be remiss to ignore the many benefits of competition as healthy opportunity for development.
My job gives me the chance to interview each new volunteer club advisor. I ask each candidate how they feel about competition and then how they feel about winning. I believe these two questions highlight an important distinction and provide some insight to a person’s beliefs and experiences.
I believe competition means focusing passion, hope, and resources on a specific area of interest. It means finding gumption to try, potentially repeatedly, and take risks. Winning can help motivate, build self-confidence, and promotes a sense of accomplishment; but it also can feed an ego, bolster a sense of entitlement, and drive wedges in friendships. Winning doesn’t teach you as much as losing. It doesn’t make you as hungry or humble. As an educator, I care a lot more about learning through competition than winning.
Navigating the rollercoaster of competition is hard; especially for a young person with so many voices and hormones fighting for control over actions and reactions. Emotional regulation is something that has to be practiced. Competitions in 4-H provide a great arena for that but are limited to youth ages 8 and up. This is to underscore that social connections, interest exploration, and communication skills need to come first to help youth handle the pitfalls of competition.
Competition provides the chance for youth to find the courage and strength to persevere, to work hard to improve, that people aren’t entitled to having everything go perfectly even when giving our best, that sometimes just doing your best is enough, to control what you can control, and the important role of ethics and teamwork. They learn about extrinsic (material) rewards like trophies and titles, as well as intrinsic (internal) rewards like personal pride.
I firmly believe one of the greatest skills you can develop in your child is the ability to cope with losing. Loss of a game, livestock show, friend, position, family member, dating relationships, and labels that we cling to for identity happens over and over again throughout life. Unfortunately, there is no way to protect yourself from it. Life demands we learn how to respond. Life demands resiliency. Loss gives us the opportunity to develop resiliency and healthy competition is the arena to make it happen.
So, in 2019, I hope your kid loses. I hope all our kids do. And I hope they are surrounded by supportive adults, like our 4-H advisors, who daily model how to handle loss and who help them build the muscle for handling loss. In doing so, I think our community will win. So, in 2019, I hope we redefine the win, by learning to lose like champions. If you would like to get your child or yourself involved in 4-H to practice winning and losing, contact the Ross County 4-H office 740-702-3200.
Katie Feldhues is a 4-H Youth Development Educator
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