Motivation is an intrinsic trait, and children are born with varying degrees of natural motivation. However, it is also a skill that can be learned and fostered, especially when a child is interested in a task.
One of the places your child may need a competitive spirit fostered is in sports, music, or other hobbies that require skill and practice. A competitive mindset can increase a child's performance, self-esteem, and willingness to work hard when developed and supported healthily.
Children, especially in sports and music, face unique pressure from parents, coaches, peers, and sometimes themselves to be the best. However, creating an environment for positive competition isn't always about being the best. Instead, it is about teaching kids sportsmanship and humility, preparing them for the real world, and encouraging creativity.
This article provides tips and advice on motivating your child to be competitive, in sports and life's challenges. The tips below offer advice to help your child set goals, compete healthily, and naturally build your child's motivation.
Teaching and Understanding Healthy Competition
Humans are naturally competitive. Competition drives us to succeed and is an intrinsic survival skill wired into our DNA. However, not all kids have the same level of international motivation.
When encouraging young people to compete, coaches, parents, and teachers must do so in a healthy way. To make competition healthy, children need to learn the ups and downs of competition, how to practice good sportsmanship whether they win or lose, and how to support others.
Competition comes from a desire to win or accomplish a goal. Whether winning the baseball game or earning the lead in the school play, competition is a part of most kids' lives. Competition is also an opportunity for growth and learning, especially when kids compete and lose.
A loss, fairly or unfairly, is a chance to teach perseverance, examine skills, and encourage focus and hard work keeping kids motivated for next time. Losing is never fun, but it is a part of life, and many parents tend to shield their children from the unpleasant side of competition. However, in doing so, children fail to learn natural consequences, how to lose gracefully and are less likely to put in the hard work needed in other areas of life.
On the flip side, when your child is on the winning team, it is a chance to teach humility, shows them that competing can be fun, and creates a desire to advance their skills.
Most importantly, competitive sports and other competitive hobbies should, at their core, be fun and interest your child. Whether your child wants to play basketball or win the school science fair, if there isn't a basic level of internal motivation and fun, kids are not likely to maintain interest, thus decreasing their motivation.
Developing Healthy Competition in Unmotivated Child
Not all young athletes and kids are motivated by winning or the desire to win. And while competition is typically associated with playing sports, children outside of athletic interests must also learn the ups and downs of competition.
Parents can attempt to boost their child's lack of motivation in several ways. Younger and older children are motivated by different factors, so step one is to discover your child's personal goals and what motivates them.
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Connect winning with effort
For some people, talent and skill seem effortless, but for most of us, practice is required to win and succeed. And chances are even for those individuals who make sports or performing look easy; they have spent countless hours honing their skills.
Therefore, to stir your child's motivations, educate them that winning takes effort. Young athletes may look at the pros and think their skills come naturally. So encourage your child to learn about their favorite athletes and their path to success.
When children see an example of how hard work has paid off, it may be the push they need to re-engage.
Success doesn't always mean coming out at the top. Each person needs to decide what success means for them, given the context of the situation. For example, if your child has decided to play sports for the first time, then perhaps success means making the team. The next time, they might focus on improving their batting skills or making more baskets.
Success is a mental game, but you and your child get to determine the parameters under which that game is played. Kids need to understand that success has many meanings, and any time they develop new skills, put forth their best effort, or try something new, they've succeeded.
Help your child set personal goals and provide the support needed to take them to the next level, whatever that may look like for them.
Learn from competition
As a parent, you play a crucial role in helping your child learn from competitive activities. No one likes losing, but it comes with competition. When parents teach kids how to handle disappointment appropriately, they can learn from mistakes and re-frame a loss positively.
Whether your child achieved the goals they set out to conquer or not, encourage them to reflect on their performance and contemplate what they learned from the experience.
Winning is fun, but losing is an essential part of child development because it plays a critical role in how children learn.
Young athletes and competitive sports
There is a lot of pressure on young athletes to be the best and win. Parents may push their children too hard in hopes of a fulfilling and unmet childhood dream of their own or simply because they want their kids to succeed and win.
However, it is essential you allow your child to be their own person. Kids should learn how to be a part of a team and to work together during a game. Individual performance in any activity, sports or otherwise, is important but not more important than teamwork.
Parents must refrain from pushing their kids too hard, which could decrease their motivation and love of the game.
Practicing Healthy Competition at Home
If you don't know how to motivate your child to be competitive, start at home with family games in a safe and supportive environment. Playing games with your child teaches them to handle real-life wins and losses.
Avoid "cheating" so your child can win. Even children as young as two and three need to lose a few games of Candyland occasionally. You can also engage in competitive activities like two on two sports in the backyard, bowling, or mini golf outings. Kids with a bad attitude, when they lose at family game night, will struggle when they fail in the real world.
Another option is to make daily tasks competitive. For example, set a timer to see who can get dressed the fastest or if they can clean their room in under ten minutes.
Offer plenty of positive reinforcement for tasks completed on time or successfully and offer rewards for a job well done. Receiving a prize for completing a required task will help prevent a poor choice later.
Not all kids come with built-in motivation, some need more push than others, especially for tasks that don't interest them or they struggle with. And if your child wants to play sports or engage in other competitive activities like music, dance, theater, school politics, or even the spelling bee, they must learn how to develop a healthy competitive spirit.
But even for those who simply want to succeed in life, competition is part of the game. Life comes with competitive aspects, from getting into college, securing a job or promotion, and buying a house.
Parents can support a healthy competitive attitude when they teach kids how to learn from losses, develop personal goals, and achieve the next step over simply winning.
Encourage the mindset that winning takes practice and hard work, provide ample positive reinforcement for a job successfully completed, and support your child whether they came out on top or the bottom during games.
If parents keep these goals in mind, over winning, they will raise healthy, competitive kids who understand what it takes to be a team player.