It’s OK Not to Be the Best

I am fiercely competitive. Growing up as the youngest child, I always had to fight for my place at the table. I’ll skip the double minority, “Gotta be twice as good to get half the opportunities” narrative. Olivia Pope can fill those shoes for now. Suffice it to say I was raised that it is never OK not to be the best. Ever.

I married a man who is just as competitive as I am. Maybe more so. Fortunately, we enjoy healthy competition amongst each other. It seemed to be all fun and games until that double dose of “competitive spirit” manifested in our young child, Alexandra.

Alexandra is a stellar athlete and a super smart whiz kid. She LOVES to win. And she REALLY hates to lose. When asked by Louisville Magazine what her favorite part of track and field was she responded, “Winning.”

OK Not To Be the Best 1
Louisville Magazine November 2015

Her drive to win helps greatly in athletics. In her first track and field season, she brought home 19 medals. She also finished top 8 in the country in the 100m, 200m and 400m races. She is among an elite few youth athletes to hold the All-American title.

But the first time she finished second place, she cried. Crocodile tears. Boo hoo, snot face, give yourself a headache cried. Second place wasn’t good enough in her mind. In the words Ricky Bobby, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

Parenting her through her this challenge was tough. How do I balance keeping her competitive drive without making her complacent? How do I keep her motivated without being overbearing?

Ultimately, it came down to reminding her that she was still learning, still growing, and still improving with each race. And even though she wasn’t first, she wasn’t last. Throughout the season, she faced several girls who beat her. And sometimes she beat them. And though she still didn’t like it, she began to handle it better.

After the 2015 Summer Season she was adamant that she would never run track again. She had been there and done that and was ready to conquer something else. Did I mention she was headstrong, too? We let it go for a few months, found a private trainer and brought it back up when the time for indoor season came around. Did I mention we were competitive?

OK Not To Be The Best 2
Alexandra and her friend Elecia

At the AAU Indoor Youth National Championship she came across some of the same girls she ran against in the summer. Although, this time instead of opponents, she saw them as friends. They chatted while waiting to race. Shook hands after each race. Held hands on the medal stand. Hugged when they took pictures together.

I almost teared up watching my anti-social, uber-competitive child laughing with a girl who’d just beaten her on the track. It was a parenting moment to remember. So I’ll leave you with these three tips of when it’s OK for your child not to be the best.

When she’s having fun. Sometimes it is all just fun and games. And when it is, let it be.

When she’s making friends. When you’re the smartest, the fastest, or the best you can also be the most disliked. If she’s able to overcome the social and emotional barriers that often plague high functioning children, celebrate that victory.

When she’s continually improving. No matter how good she is, there is always someone better. Set expectations against past performance, not other people. As long as she’s doing her best, being the best is not as important.

5 Replies to “It’s OK Not to Be the Best”

  1. We’re new to sports. Our 6 year-old is taking up an interest in basketball and baseball. He’s has some moments where he’s been down on himself for being the smallest and not knowing as many sports terms/positions are more experienced players.
    Glad to hear she pushed through her challenges.

  2. all I can say is that you have set a firm foundation for her based on the post. She is learning herself and how to be a good individual. Keep at it!

  3. Love this post Anitra! And these are great tips. I’ve learned through watching my own kids how they take in what they see in us as their parents. So this is a great reminder to be transparent with them about real life, and make sure they know I am a safe place they can come to. GO Alexandra!

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