Winners and losers ... should kids compete?

Winners and losers ... should kids compete?

There's an interesting debate doing the rounds at the moment.

It's about competition: that competing is a bad thing and kids should not be made to battle each other in any kind of school-based combat because, when it's over, there's a winner. And as we all know, where there's a winner, there's a bunch of others who didn't win. Now, we all know that no one wants to be a loser. And I can't think of too many parents who enjoy doing that maybe-next-time clap as their non-winning offspring fall across the line.

But we do it, because there may well be a next time. We say things like, ''We weren't to know that a future Olympian was going to be in your class, were we?'' or ''Her birthday's coming up, why don't we get her some roller skates and see if she breaks her leg before the athletics carnival?''

But that's competition, isn't it? The whole thing about organising a bunch of people to start here and finish there is that someone actually gets to win. Winning feels good for the winner, so whack-a-doo for them.

By the same token, losing doesn't have to feel bad. It could just be not winning. You know? There's a fair bit of life in that, too. Our job as parents and educators is to get them ready for what's coming when they eventually leave the nest for the actual world.

Now, for the record (and please don't take pity on me), I would have won just about everything I entered, had I been faster, stronger and better.

Apart from the Mount Eliza under-12 coach's trophy - given to me by Mr D with the words ''I could have given this to one of two twins but the good one already picked up best bowler, so that leaves the other one'' - there's really not much to skite about. But that's fine.

I'm fiiiiiiiiiine. Honest. Really, I am. And it's not about me, anyway. Or my football team, which seems to have made it a mission to dodge success since the year of my birth. Is that a reason to stop following them? Quite probably. But that would be buying into the whole competition-is-bad scenario.

Without competition we'd be bereft of the great stories. The ovations for the victor and the even bigger ovations for the competitor in last place. Why is that, anyway? Why does the person who comes last in an Olympic marathon get a bigger cheer than the poor sap who comes in mid-field? Being able to lose may be the greatest gift of all. The best eventually fail and their biggest problem might be they're not very good at it. What a gift for them to give the rest of us so much practice. Talking to local teachers this week, they were adamant the key for our kids is participation. Be in it, enjoy it and if things go your way you may even win.

The fact remains, non-starters have no chance. Like a friend's son, who made it to a high level in his sport. Let's call him Daryl, because that's pretty close to his real name.

Years ago, Daryl made the state swimming championships. It was a difficult road just getting there. He learnt the lesson that hard work and early mornings can bring rewards. He was, without doubt, a winner.

What a shame he didn't hear them call his race at the championships. Poor Daryl. But lucky the kid who may never have won.