How to be an involved 4-H parent in 10 easy steps – Step 5: Fostering growth through competition

Your child has joined a 4-H club, now what? Try these tips to help 4-H members and parents have a successful experience.

Let’s start by clarifying there is no such thing as “easy” when it comes to being a parent. Parents play an important role in 4-H programs by supporting and encouraging their child throughout the 4-H experience, in much the same way they would advocate for the child through school, sports or other activities. Being an informed and supporting parent can enhance your child’s 4-H experience to ensure they receive maximum benefit from the program. This article is part of a series that will provide a number of tips for 4-H families to bolster their 4-H experience and apply the 4-H motto, “To make the best better.”

Step 5: Fostering growth through competition

4-H and county fairs go hand-in-hand; the relationship is ingrained in the fabric of rural America. The county fair is an opportunity to recognize the achievements of local agriculturalist, homemakers and young people. For some 4-H members, the county fair may be their first exposure to competition. Other youth may have experienced competitive opportunities through other aspects of their life such as school or sports. Regardless of past encounters with competition, 4-H aims to provide members with a competitive environment that is safe, fun and educational. This can only be accomplished through support and positive sportsmanship of fellow competitors, parents, leaders, staff and caring judges.

As a parent, you can impact your child having a positive competitive experience by helping them direct their focus toward self-improvement. The Michigan State University Extension article, “Safe, affirming and fair environments in competition: On and off the field, court or track,” describes four elements of healthy competition:

  • Focused on improvements, time and skills; not place or fellow competitors.
  • Focused on encouragement and celebration of effort.
  • Seen in positive language, inclusion and cooperation.
  • Builds self-esteem, goal setting and confidence.

Healthy competition embraces the 4-H motto, “To make the best better.” Positive feedback received through competitive events can be a great way for your child to increase their confidence. Emphasis during competitive events should be centered on individual efforts and growth. Avoid comparisons between individuals; the skills that each child may have gained from their educational experiences will vary as well as how these skills translate into a completed 4-H project exhibit.

Competition should be age- and developmentally appropriate for the child. Work with your 4-H program coordinator, contest superintendent and fair board if you have questions or concerns. There are some youth who do not enjoy competition, as we learned in “Step 3: A safe place to learn” in this series, and that’s OK. Encourage your child to try new things and support them through their efforts, but don’t force them to repeat a 4-H experience they loathe.

Being prepared in advance for the competition will help your child have a positive experience. Here are a couple of MSU Extension resources you can review with your child prior the event:

Reflecting on your fair experience” by MSU Extension will help you direct your child after the event to process their competitive experience and continue engagement in the self-improvement cycle.

As with any competitive activity, sportsmanship must be practiced by everyone involved in order for the event to be enjoyable. Michigan 4-H defines good sportsmanship based on the following:

  • Displaying respect for animals.
  • Displaying respect for opponents.
  • Displaying respect for the “game.” 
  • Displaying respect for others.

Striving for real sportsmanship in a reality show world” by MSU Extension provides additional action steps you can encourage your child and family to incorporate into your 4-H competitive experiences to increase positive sportsmanship.

Your family’s 4-H journey can provide your child with an unlimited number of learning encounters. Whether your journey is just getting underway or if your family has been involved in 4-H for years, you are likely to find something new to learn and experience at every step along the way. You will find there are people along the path to help guide you, but ultimately the path of your family’s 4-H expedition will be individually determined.

Look for the next article in this series soon—Step 6: Being a positive role model.

For more in this series