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How to develop healthy competitive spirit with your kids, and how to teach them to enjoy swimming?

Are you one of those parents saying: it's not the winning but the taking part that counts? Do your kids train because of the medals or healthy habits, gaining new experience, knowledge, skills, friends? What do you say to them when they go to the training: be good or have fun and enjoy? Do you remember your kid’s first competition, or you missed it? Are you cheering passionately when your kids are competing, or you think that’s a waste of time? Do you remember your first competition if you missed your kid’s? Were you nervous or were you a tough nut to crack?  What was that experience like: sweet or sour? What was the advice you got and what was the one you gave to your child before the first big event?

I remember my first swimming competition, and I didn’t miss little shark’s one either. I was seven. My discipline was 100m crawl and we swam in the 25m long pool. 

That day I got there before anyone else. I was slightly nervous. I was both so nervous and excited that I even needed to see a man about the dog. When the sound of the whistle marked the start of the race, everything suddenly became silent around me and the only thing I heard, even under water, was the loud cheering of my mother. I jumped into the pool and swam. It wasn’t easy at all. I felt scared too. But the cheering helped me a lot. And I was very happy. And yes, I was the first to finish the race and I won the medal. Yes, my first competition is a sweet memory.

Today, 33 years later, I am the loud one who is cheering from the audience.

My little shark had his first competition when he was two and a half. His discipline was 25m water noodle race. 

Unlike his dad, my son was late for his race, as he overslept his afternoon nap. He also missed the sound of the whistle because we didn’t have anywhere to park, so I ran together with him and just threw him into the pool. His race had already started, and he had smile on his face and swam with his noodle. He was not nervous at all, as we introduced the whole competition as a game and fun experience.  

Yes, it was easy for him as that was a game in the water for him. He was also happy because the audience cheered loudly, and his mum and dad were there. He also managed to swim the whole 25mlong race with his noodle at the age of 2.5. Yes, he was the last one to finish the race and he didn’t win the medal. Because of that sweet experience we all had, when he was three he had another race and another game he played with his noodle and other friends. Yes, he was the last one, but he finished the race (he was forth but by far the youngest competitor, just like the first time), and again he had a smile on his face!

8 recommendations how to develop healthy competitive spirit with your kids (from my experience):

1. Feeling new experience: Competition should not become an obligation or a school task. It’s not always important to win. It does feel nice when you win a medal, but for kids where the competition should be fun and seen as a game in a way, is not that important. Especially if that is their first competition. What is important, is that first feeling after the competition, that stays with them for the rest of their lives: sweet or sour.• 

2. Equal treatment: Lately I have noticed that in many competitions they award medals to all kids who take part. And then if they don’t get them at the next one, both kids and parents start protesting. That’s absurd. I don’t believe each child should get a medal, but those who really deserve them. If we teach children that they will get a reward, no matter how much effort they put in it, then in future, at some other place, they would feel entitled to a “medal” even though they haven’t broken a single sweat for it. Sometimes your personal best is not enough for the first, second or the third place. Kids should have a certain goal or a motive even if they are competing at a school competition. The best should get the medals while the rest can get something else that would motivate them to work harder and take part again, such as a diploma or a certificate of attendance. There is always a way.• 

3. Be persistent, not give up and give your best: What we need to teach our children is that we do not compete only with other kids but with ourselves too. Sometimes it’s more important to finish the race than just give up or win a medal. You should always make the effort, and not just a few trainings before the race. In that way you will always get better results, no matter whether that means winning a medal, better race time, or finishing the race.• 

4. Accepting defeats: Even though we want our child to always be the best one, we need to teach them how to accept defeat and the possibility that someone else is better. No, it doesn’t matter if they don’t win that medal. By taking part we teach them and also minimise the fear of defeat that they may have. We also teach them what fair play is.• 

5. Realistic expectations: We should definitely be optimistic, but also realistic about what our child can achieve. It is important to praise our kids and acknowledge their success, but not give them false hope. It happens quite often that we give them false hope on purpose and then when they lose they end up in tears and they miss that sweet feel of their first, second or any other competition.• 

6. Support and positive atmosphere: Positive atmosphere before the competition is very important. Starting from getting ready to leave the house, which mostly depends on parents, over the atmosphere among their friends in the locker room to getting out to the swimming pool where one look from their coach will give them extra energy boost. Of course, cheering and positive energy in the audience are often key factors.• 

7. Believing in themselves: Besides the support we all provide to our children, teaching them to have faith in themselves is the most important thing. In that way we will teach them how to find that inner motivation to learn, improve and be better today than they were yesterday. Also feeling positively nervous before the competition is ok.• 

8. Team spirit and motivation: The support that swimmers give to each other improves the team spirit, because it’s not only about the individual but also about the quality of team at the competition. Motivation is also important, even in the form of getting an ice-cream after the race for those younger ones. It’s important that we have it and that it pushes us forward.

Healthy competitive spirt should be taught from a very early age, but also should remind parents what that actually is. I believe we teach our kids that they are not worth less if they don’t win a piece of a precious metal, but what matter is that good competitive spirit to persevere, and develop further, so they become more confident, persistent, happier and more successful in their future lives. So, don’t push your kids to win medals, let them have fun while they are swimming. 

Let them have sweet memories after their first or any other competition.

What is expected form us parents is to support them and cheer loudlyfor them.

There will be time for victories…


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