How to Encourage Healthy Competition in Kids

May / 2019

Learn about the importance of intrinsic motivation, and read through ways you can start encouraging healthy competition today!

In our first blog post on healthy competition, we defined what healthy competition is and why it’s important for kids. We would now like to explore how to encourage healthy competition in kids - no matter the activity. Competition can be a great motivator for learning, but if not treated responsibly, it can create a potentially toxic learning environment.   

First, we will break down the importance of intrinsic motivation in encouraging healthy competition. Then, we’ll provide six ways you can start encouraging healthy competition today!

The Importance of Intrinsic Motivation

Some of the main ways to encourage healthy competition involve helping kids develop intrinsic motivation as opposed to extrinsic motivation. In a VeryWellMind article, intrinsic motivation is defined as “behavior that is driven by internal rewards,” where extrinsic motivation involves “engaging in a [behavior] to earn external rewards or avoid punishment.”

Part of encouraging healthy competition is having children feel self-motivated and satisfied from participating in the activity, which is why intrinsic motivation is so important. Certainly, external rewards such as acclaim, a prize, fame, etc. can be effective motivating factors when competing. However, intrinsic motivation is a more powerful force because it’s the desire to keep trying in order to improve your own performance even when no reward is offered. It can also provide a deep sense of self-satisfaction.

"I believe that part of developing healthy competition is that children learn their most important competitor is their self," says Dr. Timothy Gunn, Psy.D., a pediatric neuropsychologist, in a Parents article. This concept - competing with yourself - is central to both intrinsic motivation and to encouraging healthy competition.

6 Ways to Encourage Healthy Competition in Kids

There are a few main ways to encourage healthy competition in kids that you can start implementing today!

Focus on Personal Goals

Help kids create goals that are achievable but require enough work to keep them motivated and engaged in the activity. Setting personal goals is a key way of building intrinsic motivation and can help your child stay focused on constantly improving. Also, by setting personal goals, you take the focus away from “winning” a competitive activity. Instead, children can focus on achieving their goals!  

Creating personal goals might look like this:

  • I want to run a mile without stopping.

  • I want to improve how quickly I built this structure on the Blocks Rock! App by 10 seconds.

  • I want to hit the ball in the baseball game.

Celebrate Improvements and Achievements

There are five factors that have been recognized to help develop intrinsic motivation. One of these factors is recognition! Freely give your approval and your praise as children work towards their goal. When your child achieves one of their personal goals, don’t move on to the next one right way. First, recognize them for their achievement! You don’t have to throw a party - but simply show them you recognize the work they’ve put in to achieve their goal.

Reinforce Positive Messages about Competition

It’s great when your child achieves the goal and wins the game, but what happens when your child sets a goal and they don’t reach it, or their team doesn’t win? This provides a great opportunity for you to reinforce positive messages about competing. For example:

  • Sometimes you lose. Sometimes you win. As long as you put forth your effort and are trying to improve, that is part of the process.

  • You can learn from this experience.

  • You are loved - no matter if you win or lose.

  • It’s okay and necessary to fail! You can always learn something from it. Failure is learning.

Once thing to remember is not to dwell on the could haves and should haves from losing. Instead, focus on ways to learn from the failure and move forward. You could do this by sharing something you learned from your own losses or failures. Failure is not something to be afraid of, and the perfect time to share this is in the midst of a failure.

Take Away Punishment

The fear of failure is not a substitute for intrinsic motivation (OpenColleges). Fear can be a short-term motivator, but long term, children will suffer. Focus on creating an atmosphere where everyone is welcome to try and fail.

Play Both Collaborative and Competitive Activities

There are many different types of competitive activities that children can participate in. Encourage them to participate in a variety of activities that allow them to learn how to be a good teammate and to compete with themselves. For instance, with Blocks Rock!, kids can play one-on-one with the traditional game and with the companion app. Alternatively, you can choose to have them work cooperatively, or even with themselves by keeping track of the time it takes to complete a pattern.

Be a Good Role Model

One thing you can start doing today is modeling good behaviors for your children. Focus on positivity in all types of competing - whether it’s your favorite sports team, your family game night, or a neighborhood basketball game. Your children observe how you react in competitive situations, and they will model after it in their own lives!

Competitive Structured Block Play

Blocks Rock! is competitive structured block play with which you can practice many of these strategies to promote healthy competition. If you’re looking for other ideas for competitive activities, stay tuned for our next blog post.

Check out the next article in our series on healthy competition, Activities that Promote Healthy Competition.