In recent years there has been a move, by some schools, to stop identifying winners and losers in school sports day events. The old adage that ‘it is not the winning which matters, but the taking part’ would seem to support the argument for this development. On the other hand (according to SportAccord – the International Sport Federations’ Association) the modern definition of the word ‘sport’ must include an element of competition.

In my experience, the children that win most often (*at sport) are generally the ones who care if they do or not: while the ones who are not all that bothered by the result are less likely to win anyway. Among those with a winning mentality, the idea of coming second simply serves to generate more effort and determination the next time – even if it might mean some short-term distress.

Based on those observations, it seems clear to me that taking part is, of course, the most important thing; but why deprive someone with a competitive edge the drive to enjoy winning. Surely a better endeavour, than banning the idea of coming first, would be to reward taking part while teaching those that win to be graceful and appreciative in their achievements.

Does any of it actually help?

Before looking at the benefits to an individual child of winning at sport, or simply taking part in physical activity, let me just add the proviso that *sport isn’t everything. Without wanting to fall into stereotyping, I also recognise that the observations above are true of more academically focused children in their studies. Would we banish the grading systems of other school subjects?

Coming second, and being disappointed by the experience, is undoubtedly one of the best ways to become better at anything. Of course, each individual is different and, left to deal with defeat alone, there is the potential to react in a number of different ways: some good and some potentially damaging. But, with the right support, coaching and nurturing, all types of competitive results can be beneficial. Coming second can build determination, create resilience, present learning opportunities, and generate motivation and goals that children can strive to achieve.

Even physical activity that is not driven by a need to win (whether against another person or against personal targets and records) can have similar benefits for the participator. Studies have shown that the emotional, as well as the obvious physical effects of exercise, can make a child more resilient, stronger, and even increase their mental aptitude and stimulation. There is no doubt that physical activity, particularly in a competitive environment, is good for children and adults alike.

Maximising the emotional benefits of exercise

Few would argue that doing ten press-ups at home and jogging around the local field, without professional guidance, could be as effective as working with a great personal trainer in the gym. In the same way, the key to getting the mental and emotional benefit from any competitive physical activity is to join a structured environment. Getting involved in team activities, sports clubs, one-to-one coaching sessions, after school sports groups, PE classes, and other forms of organised sport are great ways to maximise the benefits for children of all ages.

Get in touch if you’d like to hear more about the benefits of physical education in a professionally managed team environment.