The Blog

Youngsters Will Lose From an 'All-Win' Approach

Like it or not, life is a competitive process and we are all subjected to competition on a daily basis. Exams, job interviews and even in vying for the hand of a prospective partner, there is always (well, in most cases) someone else out there trying their best to take the glory for themselves.

As we saw this summer from our beloved Olympic heroes, nothing inspires greatness quite like a bit of competition. You've only got to look at how Jamaican sprint stars and training partners Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake spurred each other on to medal success to see that mantra in action. Whether it's on the athletics track, the rugby pitch, the swimming pool or anywhere else in life, there is no greater motivator than a healthy competitive spirit.

It is undeniable that some of the greatest feats ever achieved by man have been driven by a fervent desire to succeed. Whether it's in competition against a rival, as was the case in the Olympics, or in competition against oneself, we all strive to achieve more when there's something at stake.

It is this inherent competitive spirit that drives us to be the best we can be and, as an educator, I feel privileged to be in a position to develop this desire in the lives of young people.

Learning how to approach competition and react to the outcomes of a performance is a hugely important part of growing up. The life lessons learnt in victory and, more importantly, in defeat are arguably among the most valuable in a young person's development. It's the sheer significance of these lessons that leads to my deep concern at the growing movement to remove the element of competition from the lives of our youngsters.

As headmaster of Downsend School, I am increasingly subjected to conversations with so-called experts who claim that schools should be wholly focused on participation without the elements of winning and losing. Yes, inspiring young people to participate in activities is a key responsibility for anyone involved in education and one would never argue this point. However, is abolishing the sense of competition in favour of an 'everybody wins' approach really in the best interests of tomorrow's generation?

Like it or not, life is a competitive process and we are all subjected to competition on a daily basis. Exams, job interviews and even in vying for the hand of a prospective partner, there is always (well, in most cases) someone else out there trying their best to take the glory for themselves.

Would Bradley Wiggins have had the determination to subject himself to three weeks of torture to complete the Tour De France if there had been no reward at the end of it? And would Mo Farah have been prepared to dedicate his life to a punishing training regime had there not been a gold medal at stake? The answer is almost certainly no.

Competition inspires us to perform to the best of our ability and it is our responsibility as educators to help young people harness this competitive spirit to achieve greatness in their own lives. As part of Cognita, the UK's largest group of independent schools, I like to see Downsend as being in healthy competition with the other 44 schools across the family so as to inspire the best performance from myself.

The lessons learnt in both victory and defeat are essential in equipping young people with the skills to handle the ups and downs of life. Teachers play a vital role in shaping the way in which pupils handle success and failure and it would be careless to remove this element from a child's formative years.

Win or lose, the role of an educator is to encourage young people to reflect on their performance and to devise a strategy for improvement next time round. Developing these skills is vitally important and these lessons are not, as some would suggest, best left until adulthood. Even the youngest of children have the capacity to analyse and learn from their past performances.

The key to effectively developing these skills in our young people is to ensure they are competing on a level playing field. We are all blessed with different strengths and weaknesses and it is rare that a prodigious young swimmer, for example, would be equally as talented at, say, rugby or football. For the lessons learnt through competition to be truly valuable there is an onus on educators and administrators to ensure our cohort are, where possible, competing against youngsters of a similar ability.

When I was Head of Sport at St. Paul's Prep School there were times when my 1st XV rugby team would came up against opposition much weaker than themselves. In the interest of fairness, I would take these opportunities to re-jig my team to make sure the match was a more even encounter. Invariably we would still win the match, though usually by a far less comprehensive scoreline than it might have been without my intervention.

In truth, these outcomes were far more rewarding for everyone. The opposition players had lost a closely contested match with their confidence intact while we'd been able to give some of our fringe players an opportunity to savour the sweet taste of victory. One team would win and one team would lose but both would have benefited from the experience.

Any competition stacked in favour of one outcome is not helpful and can often be counterproductive. Whether it's the rugby team, the choir or even in the exam hall, it is the responsibility of an educator to make sure our pupils are competing at a level where success is attainable. With victory a realistic ambition, it is a teacher's job to motivate our young people to work towards success.

Stripping the element of competition from our education system would effectively remove this opportunity to instil essential life skills into young minds. This cannot be allowed to happen.