Focus On Self-Improvement And The Rest Will Follow

In an article published on, research from the Michigan State University’s Institute for the Study of Youth Sports  has found “Underserved youth athletes report more life skill and character development when their coaches place greater emphasis on creating caring climates instead of focusing on competition”.

In essence, competitors whose focus is directed to personal self development versus competition with others develop a stronger sense of teamwork and team spirit and also develop important social skills, personal initiative and a sense of identity.

The research was conducted by Daniel Gould and Larry Laurer with the assistance of Ryan Flett.  According to Daniel Gould, “Our data suggests if coaches want to develop life skills and character in youth, it is important to focus on player self-improvement more so than winning.”

What does this all have to do with pageants and pageant competitions?  Everything! In fact, this is relatable to all and any competitive environments or activities. With anything in life, it is all about balance. If you focus only on winning and beating your peers you create an individual and environment that is not conducive to team spirit or consideration of others, let alone other personal attributes we consider attractive in an individual.  A highly competitive environment can often bring out the worst in people – especially parents!

The study found that in young athletes between the ages of 10 to 19, the more their coaches focused on creating a caring and task oriented environment, the more positive development was experienced in the athletes, whereas focusing solely on being competitive with all the “ego” driven emphasis that involves, negative development and experiences were shown.

Gould suggests: “Coaches should create a climate or atmosphere where kids feel cared about, valued, safe and supported. These positive things should occur while at the same time avoiding the creation of an ego-oriented climate focusing primary attention on comparing themselves to others.”

This is common sense. Who among us has not seen the negative and egotistical behaviors of competitors and their parents when the focus is solely on winning and beating the competition? It is not a pretty sight.

Coaches need to be able to motivate and inspire their young charges and balance their motivation to win with motivation to develop themselves in other areas, such as personal responsibility, controlling their emotions, communication, developing a good character and healthy sportsmanship attitudes, including how to be a good loser or winner.  The emphasis needs to be taken off just winning or losing, but rather developing the athlete as a whole.

For pageant contestants and their parents, this means with or without the aid of a professional coach, instilling self development as the goal as opposed to just beating the other contestants.  We hear so often that a parent has entered their daughter into pageants for their self confidence, but then spend all their time focusing on the “you must win” attitude.

The attitude needs to be one of focusing on self improvement. Best way to describe this is with swimming time trials.  When swimmers are not competing, they do time trials, the idea of which is to beat their own best times. So in other words, they’re not racing the other swimmers, they are racing and trying to beat themselves!  In doing these time trials, these swimmers are striving to be better without the need or concern of beating their peers.  This is also when some of their best improvements are experienced.

So when young pageant girls enter a pageant, don’t emphasis win-win-win at all costs, or express disappointment if they don’t win.  Don’t say, oh, you only got runner up!  You say, wow, you got runner up, well done!  But you also focus on how improved they were over the last time… they modeled better, their talent was better, or maybe just their turns or their smiles or the way they pivoted was better.  Look for, acknowledge and congratulate your pageant girl on all the small but very important things, but don’t let it just be about their on-stage performance.  Encourage good sportsmanship qualities, too. 

Look for, encourage and acknowledge when your young pageant star has either lost or won gracefully, how she has treated other contestants, how her own self esteem is progressing, her own levels of confidence without ego entering into it.  Walking off that stage without having won anything, but carrying yourself with poise, grace, a smile and a sincere congratulations to the winners is the stuff champions are made of!

These self development skills are every bit as important as the physical on-stage skills required to win pageants.  It is these skills that will help them in life and will give them poise and confidence as well as help them to grow up to be happier, well balanced individuals.

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