Watching a few kids play, we all suddenly noticed how two of them had entered a competition.
There were two paths they could use to climb up to the top of a slide. After a long while the little boy had found his way to climb up and use the slide. The little girl was used to the slide and chose the more hidden path to the top and had already done so a few times. Once he had found the courage and climbed up once, the boy had gotten the taste of it. But it was only once he seemed to step into a competition of who would be the first to slide down that it became a game for both.
The competition established a relationship between both and was a means to play together. It became a game of enabling one another and creating an incentive to climb, be fast, and use the slide. Having overcome his initial anxiety, he now was confirming his courage. The relationship allowed both to train their skillfulness. But it also helped them to experience a connection in which failure and success could be present. What they didn’t seem to be interested in was winning over the other.
Children find it easy to step into a playful competition, they are part of their game’s repertoire. As adults things sometimes have changed. Success has become part of a felt social pressure, and failing has become an anxiety to find oneself rejected.
Some organizations step into this by establishing a pressure that amplifies the existing competition in the hope that it will lead to more performance. Other organizations take the other road and deny the presence of competition. They hope that by avoiding pressure they’ll liberate a cooperation that in turn enables performance.
What both of these organizations miss is the need for connection. A need children often understand well intuitively and step into enabling a playful and supportive competition. They find it easy to stay in an attitude of competing and playing with the other. That is, until something happens that transforms the “with” into an “over” which inevitably leads to conflict. It’s a moment parents fear and maybe the reason competition can have a bad reputation.