There’s the parents who just want their kids to have fun. And there’s the parents who push their kids to be winners. The one side believes competition doesn’t matter. The other side believes competition is the only thing that matters.
Like so many two-sided debates, there’s a third option that both sides miss…that’s actually far superior, though much more nuanced. The great John Wooden—a real winner—said it was what he learned from his father:
“Dad’s message about basketball—and life—was this: ‘Johnny, don’t try to be better than somebody else, but never cease trying to be the best you can be. You have control over that. The other you don’t.’ It was simple advice: work hard, very hard, at those things I can control and don’t lose sleep over the rest of it.”
As you put your kid out there in soccer or on the debate team, as you talk to them about their class rank or their mile time, make sure that you are letting them know that how they compare to other people is far less important than how they measure up against their own potential. Somebody who gives their best effort at everything they do is going to go much further in life (and have a happier one) than somebody who is obsessed with coming in first place or who never earnestly tries.
So tell your kid to be the best they can be. Tell them to measure themselves against their own potential and their own progress. Not only does that usually lead to winning, it is also what winners do.