May 25, 2024

Ask A Pro by Maggie Ayre

Question: What is a healthy way to introduce competition to my 7 year old daughter?  Do we keep score, reward winning etc?  -Carol from New York City.

Answer: By the age of 7 some children thrive on competition and show great enthusiasm for sports where there is a chance to beat an opponent or the opposing team. You’ll see 7 year olds coming out of swimming lesson proclaiming; “I was swimming the fastest” or finishing a game of soccer; “we beat them, we got 4 goals to their 3.”

Other 7 year olds have no interest in the competitive side of things and are more interested in perfecting their ability.  They are more likely to make comments such as; “did you see me dive?” or “I did a fantastic pass.”

By the age of 7 I suspect your daughter understands the concept of competition. Schools introduce the concept through playing games such as Duck, Duck, Goose where children race each other around a circle, or Tag where you are trying to be the last person tagged. All these seemingly “just for fun” games have educational elements to develop skills and introduce the concept of competition. It may be worth talking to your daughter’s teacher to find out what games they play at her school.

By all means introduce the concept of more structured competition but if she’s not interested then my advice is not to push it. Time spent perfecting her skills without worrying what other people are up to will stand her in good stead for winning future competitions when the time is right.

One of the most effective ways to introduce your daughter to competition is to take her to the park by herself and set up an obstacle course. How quickly can she complete it? Can she beat this time? This also works in the swimming pool, with ball skills etc anything where she has to cover a distance or complete the task a particular number of times and can be timed.

You could also sign her up for a team sport. Most will include training sessions, for developing skills, with mini-competitions for putting them into practice to beat the opposition. Definitely use rewards. But divide your rewards into three; reward for effort, reward for ability and reward for success in competition. Without the first two the third will be far harder to achieve.

Maggie Ayre is the UKs leading Fitness Coach for Young People.  As well as one-to-one and small group nutrition and fitness work with teens she has developed Nutrition and Fitness Plans specifically for teens ( and the 3G Program designed to be run at schools as part of the PE curriculum.  She also offers mentoring for PE departments on how to re-engage teen girls with PE and has recently published her third book; “Nutrition for Exam Success – A Parent’s Guide” which is now available as a Kindle and paperback at Amazon.