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The Ups and Downs of Competition

coach-boxing Summer often means soccer tournaments, baseball playoffs, and dance competitions. How does your child fare? Some thrive on competing to win while others melt. Saying, “Just relax and go for it” isn’t always helpful.

In his new book Top Dog ( Po Bronson explains the actual physiology behind our reaction to competition. The kind of enzymes present for processing dopamine in the prefrontal cortex determine whether competition improves our performance (about 50 percent of us), puts us in a tailspin (about 25 percent of us) or has no effect on our performance (about 25 percent of us). Crazy, huh! We’re hardwired for or against competing. However, everyone feels the stress—even world record-setting athletes. The difference is in how we handle it. And that’s where we can help our children—on the sports field and even when taking tests.

Does your style match your child’s? If so, no problem. If not, are you over- or under-emphasizing competition?

If your child is in the 25 percent negatively affected, Bronson’s review of research revealed a few tips.

  • Let your child know that EVERYONE feels anxious, even their biggest heroes
  • Tell them that stress might actually help them do a bit better—there’s evidence that hearing this actually helps handle the stress
  • Look for small arenas. Stress seems to be less debilitating for many children when they’re competing against 10-20 others rather than hundreds. Local, recreational events may help them learn to channel stress a bit more productively.
  • Practice competition. Practicing when the stakes are low (such as scrimmages) does help most kids.

Key, though, is remembering that if you thrive on the big game, your child may not. Telling them how you, too, felt your heart pound and your muscles tense may help them understand the inevitability of tensing up!!

Jane Kise, Ed.D. – Educational Advisor and Consultant, 
Jane  writes an insightful post every Tuesday for Kidtelligent. Jane is an educational consultant, specializing in teambuilding, coaching, and school staff development. She is also the coauthor of more than 20 books. Jane’s website  is