Kids LA Marathon and Communicating with Children about Winning
Our eight year-old son ran in the annual Rod Dixon’s KidsMarathon at Dodger Stadium along with 5,000 other Los Angeles Unified School District elementary students. He won! So did the 5,000 other students. The theme was “Finishing is winning. Winning is finishing.”
The event was a one mile run. Hey, we were not about to subject these 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders to anything like next week’s LA Marathon. How does one mile equal a marathon? All week, they have been running at their home schools, racking up over 25 miles, and this was their final mile out of the 26.2. It was run in grand style, covered by network news, and celebrated with cheers, beautiful replica medals, and goodie bags.
Communicating with Children About Winning
My primary intention was for my son to practice being a good sport, and secondly, to have fun. Then, it struck me. What would it mean to him, or to me, if he actually won? What parent wouldn’t want their child to win the Kids LA Marathon?
I took a minute to assess whether my son actually had a chance of winning. He is an excellent runner. His coach told me that she has to tell him to stop running because he enjoys it so much. He says he is one of the fastest runners at school.
On the way to the race, I entertained thoughts of him leading the pack and crossing the tape. That was until we hit four lanes of bumper to bumper traffic entering the stadium. The masses of people jarred me back to reality. We parked. Then checked in. Then we waited.
We decided to interview our young athletes. They were excited. We wanted to plant that seed and introduce the possibility of winning. We asked them what their strategy was for winning. At that point, the coach interrupted with “Finishing is winning. Winning is finishing.” We planted another seed and asked if they were going to finish strong. Yes! We asked if they would help their teammates finish strong together. Yes! We asked if they would do their best. Yes! They were all smiles. They were ready.
As the students were lining up at the starting line, track and field champions greeted and encouraged them. The opening ceremony was thrilling. Finally the first wave of students, fourth graders, took their marks. Then, the race was on, and a flood of a thousand kids in their white Kids LA Marathon shirts took off. It felt like the biggest race of the year.
The first kids crossed the finish line. They were really amazing. I yelled out, “You’re awesome!” Then I caught myself. In the heat of the moment, evaluative praise had leaked from my lips. That was not how I wanted to be communicating with children.
I became conscious and chose my words deliberately. Instead of rewarding them with evaluative praise like “good job,” “you’re such a good runner,” or “I’m proud of you,” I chose phrases like:
- “That was so fast!”
- “That took a lot of power!”
- “You did it!”
- “Yay!” “Wow!” “Woohoo!”
Communicating with children this way builds internal motivation. It helps children reflect on their own accomplishments, what it took to achieve what they did, and what their accomplishments and efforts mean to them. Contrast that with praise (verbal doggie biscuits) that has kids looking externally to their parents or coaches for validation that they did well, that they are good enough. Even though the parents around me chuckled and gave me quizzical looks when I said the first two phrases, I didn’t care. I knew I was speaking the language of winners.
I hope this article about the Kids LA Marathon and Communicating with Children about winning was helpful to you.
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