All sports and activities can be competitive. My eight-year-old daughter is currently in her second year of competitive dance. Before committing to this, we saw a change in her. She craved more dancing, and she craved a challenge. Involving a young child in a competitive level of any sport is not a decision that comes lightly. It is not for every kid or family, and that is okay.
Here are some lessons I have learned.
1. There are a lot of emotions.
Dancing in itself is an emotional art. It is a way to express yourself. It is work, and it is sometimes painful. I am always amazed by the children of all ages who get on stage and perform. I have watched enough dance to see all the emotion pour out of every dance. I have been there to see my daughter’s adrenaline get so high, and I am there when it crashes and the tears flow. Competitions are stressful, even for young kids, leading to high emotions on both ends of the spectrum.
2. It is a family commitment that is year-round.
I will assume this is true for all sports at the competitive level. Training does not stop. We schedule everything, including vacations, around the schedule. We give up weekends, and my daughter misses many birthday parties or other school events. But, this has led her to learn to prioritize and be organized.
3. Before anything else, it should be fun.
My husband and I agree that the moment our daughter is not having fun, we are done. Right now, her entire world revolves around dance. It is what she loves most, and there is never a complaint. She works very hard, and she sees and feels the improvement. She dances with people who have become her best friends and works with teachers she loves and trusts.
4. It is NOT all about winning. It is about growth!
Sometimes, I watch videos of my daughter dancing a couple of years ago and even last year; the growth is amazing. Yes, we are paying for specialized training, but being along for the journey of watching your kid get better and better at something is truly my favorite part.
Aside from dance techniques, my daughter is learning to trust her body, take risks, and challenge herself. Her choreographers this year put things into her dances that she could not quite do yet in August, but each week, we watch her get stronger and stronger. Even outside of dance, she will carry this with her forever. The confidence to know what her body can do and that work often equals success. Winning is not always a first place or a trophy; it is achieving your personal best.
5. To compete, you have to have a bit of competitiveness in your personality.
This is hard to explain, and helping an eight-year-old navigate this can be tough. The lesson here is to leave it to the professionals. As parents, we need to support our kids; even if a performance is not their best, our job is to cheer them on and build them back up. Competitive kids can be hard on themselves. We should be there to listen and let the teachers and coaches work on everything else.
6. Your team becomes your family.
These other children and their parents will see your child, and sometimes you, at their best and worst. The other kids and parents are going through exactly what you are, so they understand it better than anyone outside the sport. The lesson: be there. Help with rides, hair and make-up, share equipment, buy lunch or dinner, or whatever needs to be done, step in! You are going to need help at points, too.
Even though this is only our second year, we have learned so much. Over the years, I am sure I will have much more to add to this list of lessons. In raising kids in a competitive world, while there are some sacrifices for our family, we see so many benefits to allowing our daughter this experience. One she will certainly never forget.