Fierce or Friendly? Winning & Losing.

I love competition. It brings out the best in me. From a weekday CrossFit WOD to sporting national championships, competition extends and focusses my performance. Obviously, this isn’t the case for everyone though and an hour long PE class can be the source of massive anxiety for kids that don’t enjoy competition.


Competition to be the first one picked, the goal scorer, to grab the best hockey stick or to be the eventual winner of the game. Based on my observations, competition comes in many forms and some students don’t enjoy the competitive feeling. Some kids seem to work better with a more intrapersonal, intrinsic version of motivation, especially those students who are still developing the basics. They simply enjoy the internal challenge of manipulating a ball around a court or moving through an obstacle course without stepping down onto the floor without the interruption or confrontation of an opponent. Alternatively, many kids work best with a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic motivational factors; others (especially in certain situations) totally depend on the extrinsic and interpersonal competitive stimulus for motivation.


IMO motivation and competition go hand in hand. It can either motivate or de-motivate. Theres no neutral. The key for me as a PE teacher is to harness the positive motivating factors of competition. I think everyone can enjoy competition when it is scaffolded and contextualised appropriately. It after all makes our lessons more objective, goal orientated and instantly relevant to our students.

Enjoyable competition. How?

Sometimes I’ll preface competitive team games or even Sport Ed. models with the option of a ‘Fierce’ competition or ‘Friendly’ competition. Within these options there are a number of things for the individual students to consider. There may be:

  • modification to play,
  • changes to scoring,
  • modification to the recording of results,
  • manipulation of the playing area,
  • use of different equipment.


Each individual student chooses whether they want to play the ‘Fierce’ version with a more competitive result based focus or the ‘Friendly’ version with a more participation type focus. It’s important to note that the PE concepts and competencies required are similar, if not the same in both versions.

Initially I had reservations about the idea and was very careful to not allow it to turn into a streamed class based on abilities or a boy/girl divide. However, I needn’t worry. In a recent striking and fielding unit one of the most experienced players chose the ‘Friendly’ game with his goal for the lesson being enjoyment and playing without pressure. The student was active, performed his skills well when required, peer coached and displayed character traits such as empathy, honesty and kindness. On the other side of the coin we had a range of ability levels and personalities take the ‘Fierce’ option. I was pleasantly surprised by the one quiet student who chose the competitive game and pressure of performing over the friendly version and importantly this was the students choice. Student choice and scaffolded competition = happy, active (on task) kids.

IMO those that believe competition is negative or unimportant are missing the point. The point being a valuable teaching and learning opportunity for all students. An example is the ‘dealing with losing chat’ which goes something like this…

“Because you lost does not make you a loser, it simply means that you lost a game/set/match/race etc. I’m glad that you feel disappointed. This shows pride in what you are trying to achieve. The most important thing at this time is to acknowledge your disappointment and make changes so as to win the next one”

The above conversation/spiel serves two purposes.

  1. Acknowledges the students feelings that it is ok to be upset and disappointed with a result.
  2. Highlights the importance of the result and embraces it as a feedback mechanism or prompt for change.


The killer combination of the ‘dealing with losing chat’ and ‘Fierce or Friendly’ student choice has helped me propagate a healthy level of differentiated competition based on student choice in a number of different units. Competition is a part of life and I hope that it continues to remain a part of PE class.

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