Competition and its Effects
Webster’s Dictionary (1979) makes useful distinctions about types of competition, citing that competition denotes a striving for the same object, position, prize, etc., usually in accordance with certain fixed rules; rivalry implies keen competition between opponents more or less evenly matched, and unqualified, it often suggests unfriendliness or even hostility; emulation implies endeavor to equal or surpass in achievement, character, etc. another, usually one greatly admired.
Competition is typically considered a basic animal drive related to survival, whereas sportsmanship is the abstract socialized behavior that emerges as we compete for sport and recreation. There is little argument that competition has both cultural benefits and challenges; it can raise people to the height of peak performance or reduce them to duplicitous self-centered hostility. Sportsmanship is how individuals conduct themselves within competition: it is a learned and social behavior that reflects how individuals have been taught to compete and value competition. Poor sportsmanship can reflect an obsessive focus on achievement at the expense of forming positive social connections. It is a challenge that modern communities and cultures embedded in competition must frequently mitigate (Dunnewold 2007; Wallace et al. 2015). Competition can have positive or negative effects on learning motivation, and these outcomes largely depend on whether those involved see themselves as willingly participating or not (Ryan and Brown 2005; Legault et al. 2006).
The Essential Elements of Positive Youth Development include Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity (Kress 2004). These Essential Elements were most likely derived (in part) from preexisting developmental models being advanced in the field of psychology, particularly Cognitive Evaluation Theory, which is a sub-theory of Self Determination Theory (Ryan 1989). A central tenant of this perspective is that social contexts that promote autonomy, competence, and relatedness will facilitate intrinsic and internalized motivation (Legault et al. 2006). The defining characteristics of these Essential Elements parallel definitions within Cognitive Evaluation Theory. Independence parallels autonomy, mastery parallels competence, and belonging and generosity parallel with relatedness. These are basic human drives for fulfillment. Autonomy is very similar to the 4-H Essential Element of Independence, which, is identified by National 4-H as futuristic involvement and self-determination (Kress 2004).
Types of Competition
There are many goals that can be obtained through the use of competition. One of these goals is the gradual emergence of a young person’s self-direction and competence as a member of their community. However, there has not been a great deal of guidance heretofore about how to use competition judiciously and beneficially, to support, rather than hinder, intrinsic learning motivation.
The National 4-H Recognition Handbook (Parsons 1996) provided an excellent research-informed training for adults about youth engagement in competition and achievement. The National 4-H Recognition Model pointed out there are three kinds of competition:
- Goal-Identified: Setting and striving for goals, striving against our own best record.
- Standardized: Measuring our products or performance against standards of excellence.
- Affiliative: Competing against another person or group, in comradery or rivalry.
The national model also pointed out varying levels of readiness for competition based on ages that fall within range of our 4-H age groupings. There are four age groupings in traditional 4-H programs:
- Cloverbuds: 5–7 years
- Juniors: 8–10 years
- Intermediates: 11–13 years
- Seniors: 14–19 years
Pre-determined age groupings inform competitive classes, and cross-age competitions are usually not permitted. (Seniors do not compete against Juniors, for example.) This fulfills the definition that competitive rivals should be more or less evenly matched (Webster’s 1979).
The Washington State 4-H Program Policy cites that youth below the age of 8 are not eligible to participate in competitive events (WSU 2014). The National 4-H Headquarters also discourages Cloverbuds from competition. Sometimes a 4-H Cloverbuds member will be physically capable of doing something but will not be able to understand the reason for the process or the result. Participation in that activity would be just as inappropriate as participation in an activity that is unsafe because of physical limitations (USDA 2011).