The weather was perfect this week. We slept with the windows open, and I could hear the marching band practicing as I ate breakfast. There is just something about this time of year. Our cheerleaders are fired up, and our football players are ready. I spent this afternoon at a softball game as our fall sports are kicking off.
I am a football girl…the thrill of a 4th quarter comeback, the hail mary caught in the end zone, the season that starts off slowly and then suddenly catches fire. In fact my family refuses to let people come over when my team is playing. To say I get animated is an understatement.
I am competitive. I want my team to win. I want to win.
As a middle school teacher, I used friendly competition to motivate my students. In the fall, I taught the routines and transitions for group work with the Desk Olympics. I would time classes as they practiced getting into and out of small groups of varying sizes. Each period competed with the other for “prizes”. Middle school students will do anything for a piece of candy or a cheap plastic toy.
Competition is engaging. Competition is motivating.
Competition is also dangerous at times. There is a balance between a competition that pushes us to grow and a competition that stops us from growing others and our organization.
Athletes know, for example, that training with someone who is just a little better than they are can push them to get faster or stronger. But what happens when that competition becomes toxic? What happens if those partners stop sharing training tips in the hopes of staying one step ahead? “The goal in life is not to be better than anyone else. It’s to be better than you were yesterday.” (Jon Gordon)
It’s worth repeating that the goal should always be to create a better version of yourself and a better version of your team or organization. Competition can fuel that drive and push you to be the best version of yourself. If you do 10, I want to do 12. It’s how I am wired, and I work with people who are even more competitive than I am. I think we push each other.
But competition is complex.
Systems that compare can make it harder to create a culture that allows for growth. If I want my school to look better than your school, I will be less likely to work collaboratively with you.
In education we are working with and for children. Competition between students when it comes to learning is not healthy. Competition between schools when it comes to student achievement is not healthy. Competition between districts when it comes to funding is not healthy.
A rising tide lifts all boats. A colleague from another district called me this week to process through some test scores and what his school could do to address the issues. He just needed to bounce ideas off someone. I’ve reached out to him (and many others throughout the years) to have this same conversation. Our collaboration is more effective than a competition could ever be.
I embrace my competitive nature. I intend to cheer loudly next week at the first football game. But I also appreciate that I have things to learn from other people and that they may have things to learn from me.
I don’t think competition is a bad thing, but I think we need to recognize that there should be a balance. We need to reflect on our motives.
When we start to care as much about other people as we do about ourselves, the world will change.