Originally Posted by Fillyjonk
My kids do a lot of sports, different sports, but we've actively avoided anything competitive and pulled out of certain sport where its felt its too competitive for us, too early. We're not a competitive family, really, its not something we encourage and its not something we, as parents, aim to model. Dp and I tend to avoid activities which associate exercise with grades or social status, which has been an issue for us in martial arts. They do them for the exercise, so that they associate fun with exercise, and so they have the skills to take part in team games, exercise etc as they get older.
My family has done similarly. We steered clear of karate and tae kwon do, and did aikido instead (non-competitive). We supported the kids in dropping out of soccer when it got too focused on games and standings. We turned down offers to join the competitive gymnastics stream. And we declined the invitation to the provincial (competitive) music festival. At least, we did all that prior to adolescence. After that we were okay with the occasional competitive activity or event.
I do think, though, that in Canada and the UK it is somewhat easier to find suitably challenging activities for kids outside of the competitive realm. For instance, I understand that in most youth orchestras in the US there's a hierarchical system for seat assignments, whereby if you're placed as assistant concert-master in the violin section, any of the people sitting farther back in your section can challenge you to a musical duel of sorts adjudicated by the director, whereby the loser takes the rear-most seat. It just boggles my mind that youth orchestras could be run this way, but it's pretty standard practice, at least in New England and the midwest, apparently. And I think in a lot of communities in the US, you'd be hard-pressed to find challenge beyond the introductory level in sports like soccer, softball, swimming or gymnastics which don't involve levelling up, rewards, competitions, score-keeping and rankings. We feel a bit of this cultural tide here, but fortunately we are able to find people pushing back against it hard. At my kids' school, for instance, volleyball is played regularly by about 18 kids forming two "teams," with the rotation on and off the court occurring through both sides ... so each kid plays for a while on the left side of the court, and then rotates off and onto the right side. They play hard and learn a lot but there's no traditional competition with half the kids coming up winners and half losers. And at our local trail race they have the kids run starting at 30-second intervals with somewhat random intermingling of ages (though with the littler kids starting early so that they're not left in the dust after everyone else is done), individual times are revealed to those who ask, and everyone gets a completion medal. Years ago when my older kids did a couple of terms of gymnastics there were just two streams, recreational and competitive. The recreational was great for a term, but the challenge level never changed, so when my kids wanted more skills development, the only option was the competitive stream. In the intervening years they've introduced a middle stream called "Developmental," which is non-competitive but nonetheless focused on ongoing skills development and challenge. That's where my youngest is, and it's perfect.
Anyway, yes, the pervasiveness of competitiveness in recreational pursuits for kids is one of my pet peeves. It can be an obstacle to kids interested in exploring a new skill or interest, because the introductory classes or leagues might not exist for older kids, or if they do they might not provide enough challenge for kids who are truly interested but don't want to become competitive hyper-specialists. But sometimes I think it's just a failure of imagination on the part of the organizers (who probably came through a specialized competitive track themselves) ... and that's something parents can help change. For instance, the Developmental stream at my dd's gymnastics club grew out of requests by a handful of parents who asked for exactly that. It started as an offshoot of two Rec classes where there were kids who wanted more but didn't want the competitive stream, and has grown into a robust middle way that covers a complete range of ages and a wide variety of levels. And, the way volleyball works at my kids' school: it's so simple, and yet most team-sport coaches have probably never even thought of that as a possibility. So I think parents who want non-competitive skills development opportunities for their kids should do some networking and educating and advocating for it. Just maybe they'll be able to help create opportunities that no one thought to create before, being stuck in this mindset that sports are about competing.