A recent poll by Families Online has gotten a lot of media attention. In fact I was asked today to comment on the point of non-competitive school sports day by BBC Radio Kent and this blog post has been written in response to this media attention.
So lets dive straight into the evidence against competition in school. Well there isn’t any. Not that I can find anyway. So why is this becoming something of a staple in school sports and why is it causing such a big debate?
I feel that schools and specifically head teachers have mis-interpreted and over emphasised parts of the literature that suggest task or mastery orientation to sport is beneficial for participation, motivation, expertise development. This literature states that there are two motivational orientations task/ mastery orientation where techniques and skills are emphasised just as much a success. Then there is ego orientation this is where emphasis is placed upon winning and being better than others. The most recent research suggests that a balance between the two is important for excellence in sport, what I think has happened if that the task and mastery orientation has been over emphasised and twisted to suggest that non-competitive sport is bad. When in reality both are important for development.
The second reason I think this has become a staple in schools is the influx of non-evidence based practices in schools. The most obvious example of this is BrainGym where pupils are asked to do ludicrous gestures and activities that ‘enhance’ learning (holding water in your mouth because it can be absorbed directly by the brian…). However I wonder if the messages coming from self-help, magazines, and social media are being brought into our schools by well-meaning teachers and non-scientific companies wishing to make a quick buck.
Now for the evidence that supports competition in youth sport. There’s a mountain of it. The evidence suggests that competition can help with psychosocial development, emotional development and control, moral reasoning, fair play, cognitive develop decision making, teamwork, resilience, and leadership to name but a few benefits.
I know what the sceptics are currently saying… ‘but what about losing’
There is some evidence to suggest that early failures are beneficial to long term sporting success. Specifically the Great British Medallist study found that some of the super-elite athletes (those that win multiple gold medals) usually have less success at an early age. The ability to deal with failure can increase resilience and determination to succeed later in life.
My belief is this… the most important thing in sport is that it is fun and promotes and health active lifestyle. I see no issue in competition at an early age with the caveat that it’s fun, and keeps children interested in sport later in life.