A father’s competitive struggle with kids

A father’s competitive struggle with kids
(Courtsy of the Tully family.)

As parents, we try and steer our children in the right direction. Sometimes it takes a gentle, loving push, and other times it takes an all-out shove.

Being a father of two — my daughter Shannon will be 11 next month and my son Grant is 8 — I often grapple with the predicament of how much do I guide them into the direction I would like them to go, or do I let them take their own paths and deal with the repercussions?

This quandary came to light after my children became involved in sports. Although they have tried a variety of other athletic activities, for now, Shannon and Grant have settled on tennis and swimming. Since they seemed to embrace both sports, my wife and I thought it would be a great idea for the two to become involved in the competitive aspects of the sports. We figured taking part in tennis tournaments and swim meets would be beneficial for the two.

We also suggested sports like basketball, baseball, softball and water polo — since they enjoy the water — to give the two some experience in team competition.


But Shannon and Grant would have nothing to do with the idea of competition. They both insisted that they play sports for fun, and competition was something they were just not interested in and could care less about. For them, the activity was more important than a possible winning outcome.

Their decision really threw me for a loop. I couldn’t understand how my kids turned out to be so athletically noncompetitive, a trait that was just the opposite of how I was at their age.

When I was growing up, my entire life was based on competition. I grew up as the middle child among three brothers, as the three of us were each separated by just one grade. In high school, the three of us combined to letter in six sports. In our household, competition was not only a means for eventual bragging rights, but it was also a way of life.

From who got the last drumstick in the bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken to who had the most hits in their Little League game to who had the coolest OP shirt, competition was always at the forefront with the Tully brothers. Add in the fact that we lived in a small house, the competition for the lone bathroom was often a battle of survival.


I figured my competitive nature would have rubbed off on my children. But apparently not.

I actually think being competitive, and the desire to win, are beneficial traits that can be useful throughout one’s life. The competitiveness I learned as a child has helped me compete in a world that is rife with struggles and filled with people who will fight to get what they want. Winning and being competitive have become almost dirty words in a society that often teaches our kids that they will be rewarded for just showing up.

Ask Warren Buffett or Donald Trump how important it is to win and be competitive.

Many of us engage in competitive behavior every day. From landing a job to talking down a salesman to save $5,000 on a new car to winning the heart of someone we love, competition has become an essential feature of our lives. However, as parents, we need to teach our children the difference between cut-throat, win-at-all-costs competitiveness and being competitive in order to achieve a goal or get ahead in life.

The more I think about it; I’m fine with Shannon and Grant not being the competitive athletes I hoped they would be. However, I will continually remind them that being competitive in life isn’t a bad thing and they should strive to be the best in whatever they do.

By the way, Shannon and Grant are competitive among one another. Or that could just be fighting. But fighting is a form of competition, isn’t it?

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.