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How to Deal with the Negative Effects of Competition in Education

When you hear the word “competition,” your thoughts may run to images from your childhood, winning the first-place match in a soccer tournament. Oh, the ‘high’ that gave you! Or the race for the highest GPA to become high school valedictorian. And you may also remember the embarrassment of failing at certain competitions. So, is competition healthy? Today, the idea of ‘competition’ in our society is much different (and the Internet seems to be complaining about it, correlating it with everything that’s wrong with so-called ‘millennials’).

When comparing your own competition memories with the current reality of today’s students, you may glance over a shelf full of ‘participation trophies and wonder if the competitive activities from your childhood could still hold a place in your life today.

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Competition plays an important role in academic achievement because it often spurs students to pursue excellence. College acceptance is competitive, so students who have worked hard to be at the top of their high school classes receive the reward of college admission. Academic competition has its downfalls if it leads to high stress and anxiety, especially in younger students who aren’t equipped to handle the pressure.

The Effects of Competition

Competition is a part of many situations in life and can even be a motivating force. However, unhealthy levels of competition can make you feel pressured, jealous, anxious, and deeply frustrated. By creating and following guidelines for getting along well with others and practising good habits of thought, you can work more efficiently and feel better about yourself.

When students are placed in a contest where they compete against each other where some win and others lose, even if it’s just a perceived win or lose, students may cope by using cognitive distortions, lies, cheating, stealing and bullying. These are behaviours that educators do not want to encourage in schools. Competition, like many other factors in primary and secondary schools, will affect each student differently. It may cause anxiety or stress for some students, while for others, it might motivate them to excel.

Here are 7 ways you can deal with the negative effects of competition in education:

Determine the cause of competition.

If you feel the pressure of competition, it will help determine the root of those feelings. You might already know what you want to achieve, such as winning a sporting event or becoming valedictorian. Even so, ask yourself why you want to achieve this goal. Possible reasons for wanting to compete include things like Material value (getting a promotion means a raise at work), Praise (teachers or parents will be happy for you if you get the highest score on an exam), Prestige (becoming valedictorian increases your chances of getting into a top college)Honor (winning more games means your team can get a sports title)

Focus on personal growth.

Keeping your long-term growth and overall sense of character in mind is an important part of dealing with competition. Instead of saying you can’t do something when you’re not instantly successful at it, put it into perspective. For instance, if you’re a great basketball player and decide to try out soccer, don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t win at first. Remember that your long-term goal is to diversify the sports you play and become a better athlete overall.

Beat competition anxiety. If the very idea of competing causes you stress, you may be experiencing competition anxiety. This often occurs before major competitive events, like games and examinations. If you start to worry about your performance or ability to succeed before such an event, you can deter anxiety by Playing music that makes you feel energized and fired up. Try breathing exercises, such as breathing in through the nose and exhaling slowly through the mouth. Avoiding negative or self-defeating thoughts, like “I’ll never be as good as John Doe.”Encouraging yourself with positive thinking, like “I’m getting a little better every day.”

Learn the benefits of healthy competition.

If you are having trouble handling any competition at all, it can be helpful to remind yourself of how it can be beneficial. When competition is executed and handled properly, it can help you do things like set goals, learn limitations handle lossDevelop problem-solving skills, learnt cooperation

Control stressors

If you are experiencing stress in some non-competitive aspect of your life, it can still interfere with your ability to perform in a game, at work, at school, etc. These stressors may not always in your control, such as when you or someone in your family is sick. You can manage stress and minimize its effect on competition by Trying breathing exercisesContracting and relaxing your muscles trying visualization techniques practising mindfulness meditation techniques utilizing positive self-talk, like “I can do this, no matter what!

Motivation is the Key

Academic competition is advantageous when it challenges students to work harder on their studies and helps them get excited about academic content. They might retain more as they prepare for science quiz bowls, math club competitions, spelling bees and standardized tests. Teachers often use team-based competitions to make academic material more interesting and engaging. According to education professors Thomas Good and Jere Brophy in their book “Looking in Classrooms,” team-centred competitive activities often benefit students as long as they all have a chance to win.


In the end, it is important to remember that competition is not all good, nor is it all bad. When the correct balance is struck, competition is a healthy part of life that helps us succeed. But, the correct balance must be struck. It is not necessary nor appropriate for students to feel like they must be the best at everything, and as teachers, we must be sure our students learn this essential lesson.

Regardless of where you stand in your opinion of whether competition is healthy in today’s date & time, keep in mind many different forms of competition can take place. Some are definitely more positive than others! Aim for competitive activities that involve setting attainable goals and encouraging teamwork. And of course, above all, keep students engaged and having fun.

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