Cooperative Competition

I just finished reading a very interesting article in the most recent issue of Camp Business Magazine called “Competition Conundrum”. It discusses the role of competition in today’s camps and schools.

Competition has received a lot of “bad press” in the last few years. We’ve all heard the horror stories of screaming coaches and parents, stressed out and overly aggressive kids, and a “winning at all costs” mentality. But is that what competition is really supposed to be about?

Dr. Chris Thurber, a clinical psychologist, camp training expert, and author of the article, doesn’t think so. He believes that the healthy kind of competition will:

  • praise effort, not outcomes,
  • focuses on strengths
  • encourage fun, but not at the expense of others
  • builds teamwork
  • emphasize handshakes, not prizes

Children who experience healthy competition (or what Thurber calls “Cooperative Competition”) receive many benefits. They learn to recognize how their individual behavior contributes to the team effort, and share mutual respect with their competitors.

The main message of Thurber’s article is how we, as camp staff, can frame a game or activity to be competitive without hurting performance or self-esteem.

Our Colour War activities at the end of each week are an excellent example of this. Each colour war, we have a few staff members who play on each team, rather than leading activities. The main role of these staff is to model good sportsmanship. Trash-talking, and negative talk of any kind are NEVER allowed.

When points are awarded for each challenge, they are awarded individually – that way, each team is rewarded for what they, as a team, accomplished – without direct comparison.

Finally, our Colour Wars always conclude with a celebration of both teams accomplishments, and the winning team gives a big cheer for the others’ efforts. The rewards are shared equally among all participants.

“It’s not whether you win or lose – it’s how adults frame the game.” – Dr. Chris Thurber

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