Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Kids & Competition

The Awana Grand Prix took place (sort of) this past weekend. It’s a pine car derby. Kids buy a kit for $5 (piece of wood, wheels & axels & stickers). Then they design and build their own cars to race. On race day cars are checked in and weighed to determine that they meet all the specifications for the race. Then six rounds of 16 races apiece are run, with each car running once on each of the six lanes during the course of the morning. Computerized track equipment (with video feed to a large screen) tallies the finishing times to 3 (or was it 4?) decimal points for each race and final standings are based on cumulative finishing times.

Serious stuff, right? You bet. It’s a real competition. None of this “everybody wins” fluff that you often see here in our fair city (which, by the way, none of the kids buys into anyway. Every park district soccer game is played without official score-keeping, but ask any kindergartener and they’ll tell you whether their team is winning or not). I appreciate giving kids a chance to try new things and learn without the threat of humiliation. But I also think helping kids to lose (and win) graciously is a part of our job as parents and something they need to learn while they’re young and have our support.

So, race day ended on a negative and a positive. The computerized equipment failed during the first round of races. Therefore the speed portion of the competition was postponed until Spring. However, the design/appearance judging had already taken place, so trophies were awarded. And guess what? Both of my daughters won! Okay, so they were two out of the five cars entered in the “Sparks Novelty” category (aka K-2nd grade, with a car made to look like something other than a car), which gave them a better than fighting-chance at taking home an award. My kindergartner took third place for her candy corn car. My second-grader got the second-place trophy for her bed car.

There were eighteen trophies total awarded for design. That means about forty or fifty kids went home without trophies. A few tears were shed. If I remember right the first two years that our eldest entered and didn’t win she had reacted that way. And I believe that made her win this year that much sweeter. Her five-year-old sister was definitely awed. She kept saying, “this was only my first time and I won!”. She’d learned from her sister’s previous attempts that winning wasn’t guaranteed. So I’m all for some healthy competition in my kids’ lives. They learn that losing isn’t entirely about failure and a real win is worth working for.

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