This coming Saturday will mark the 117th meeting of Michigan and Ohio State, often referred to as The Game. Arguably (to some anyway), this is the biggest rivalry in all of sports, not just college sports. An aside, when I first moved to Seattle, someone tried to convince me that Washington vs. Washington St., dubbed the Apple Cup, is a bigger rivalry. Come on, really? My dog’s rivalry with the mailman is a bigger rivalry than the Apple Cup.
Update-as of writing this, The Game has officially been cancelled due to COVID19. The last time these two teams failed to meet each other was 1917. Just one more thing COVID19 has taken from us this year. Probably a good thing for Michigan as they were a 29-point underdog but in a rivalry game, anything can happen. Oh well.
The cancellation aside, the purpose behind this post is to provide some insight into how you can make a rivalry a good thing for kids. Throughout the 117 years of The Game, Michigan and Ohio State have both displayed the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to how to handle a rivalry. Too often we focus on the negative aspects of a rivalry when actually some good can come from it if handles properly.
Rivalries bring out the best in us
Whenever we face our biggest rival, we tend to perform at our best. There is a pressure to perform well which is a great thing to learn how to handle. It is important to remember that if our best does not provide the desired outcome that the rivalry does not bring out the worst in us.
Rivalries give us a purpose or goal
If we ever are lacking motivation to practice, looking towards that meeting with our biggest rival will help us push through and finish preparations. Often times we even do a little extra to just to ensure we are totally prepared for that rivalry.
Rivals make great friends
In my karate competition years, there were some competitors that I would consider rivals. We would face off against each other year after year, sometimes more than once a year. Some of these rivalries where evenly matched and some were lopsided (mostly not in my favor). Regardless, I am still friends with many of these rivals to this day. Why is that? We share a common bond of competitiveness, skill, and respect towards each other.
Rivals become our greatest teachers
In the example above, I mentioned some of the rivalries I had were lopsided in the other person’s favor, meaning they had my number more often than not. When this happens, there are 2 roads you can take: get angry and complain it was unfair or learn from the outcome and try to improve upon it for the next time. As a very competitive person, I can honestly admit that I was not the best at this at first. After the initial disappointment wore off, my rivals often became my best teachers. I would often tell my karate students that I love 2nd place. When you get 2nd place, you are so close to the top that the drive to take the next step is the greatest. You also have the person in 1st place to learn from.
So, how can we as parents help our kids foster positive rivalries while maintaining humility and good sportsmanship? Below are a few tips that should help.
Ask what they learned
Whether they got 1st, 2nd, or last, afterwards ask them what they learned. Hopefully you were watching and can guide the conversation if need be. You may want to wait a day or two after the competition as they may be too disappointed immediately after in which case, you’ll need to just console them. It is important to ask them what the learned even if they won. This will help instill humility and a mindset of constant improvement.
Ask if they had fun
That’s the whole reason for doing competitions, right? Winning is always more fun but we have to make sure they are having fun regardless. Losing is never fun and the momentary disappointment of losing is surely not fun, but the rest of the process should be. If it is not, we should figure out why and help them find an activity that is fun.
Praise them, don’t blame others
The judging was so bad. You got robbed. The other kid cheated. We tend to want to make excuses in order to help our kids feel better about themselves. This is a bad idea as it instills the mentality of blaming others when things don’t go our way (refer to POTUS 2016-2020). Rather than blaming others, praise your kids for what they did really well. Asking the questions above will help them prepare for next time.
Prepare them beforehand
If you notice your child has a negative attitude prior to a competition with a rival, be sure to nip it in the bud. Be a good example and use your words correctly. Don’t tell your kid to go kick the other kids’ butt or something similar. Saying these types of things will give kids the improper mindset from the start.
Follow up and be involved
Help your kid prepare beforehand and follow up afterward to ensure their attitude is still correct. Don’t be an overbearing coach parent but check in with them and let them know you are there to help. They will let you in when they are ready. If you genuinely want to be of help, your kids will sense this and welcome it. Don’t give up if they turn you away, keep trying and showing your desire to be involved.
So, it is likely that very few of us will experience a rivalry of the magnitude of The Game with our kids during our parenting careers but even for smaller rivalries, it is important to make sure they are presented in a positive manner, free from poor sportsmanship, with humility and grace.