Although I love living in our very small community I sometimes question the effect it has on our kids. The children's school currently has 47 pupils - which is considered big in this area. Due to the small number of students it is pretty easy to be number one at things - especially sporting things. My son is always number one in any running activities. He often watches things like the Olympics on TV and tells us how he could beat most of the athletes. He has no idea of what is involved in actually training and working hard to be number one at something. He doesn't have to in our tiny school (where no one comes up any higher than his armpits...).
In November he had the chance to race at a prefectural event. He didn't train, but he managed to get 2nd in the 100m. Of course he was in a bit of shock due to the fact that he thought he was the fastest person in Japan, but I was secretly very happy that he wasn't number one. It showed him that in the real world you do actually have to work to do well. Of course at the same time I was also very impressed. Number two in all of Oita prefecture - to me that was quite an achievement.
What I found was most interesting was the reaction of the children at school the next day. They all knew that he had participated and were excited to hear his results. He told them quite proudly that he had got second and the look on their faces was priceless. They were literally in shock and said they didn't think there was anyone who could possibly be faster than him. They asked him if he had been injured.... The teachers were impressed, but all the kids saw it as a huge failure.
I believe that succeeding at things is really important. As we all know it gives you extra confidence and increases your self esteem. But, I also believe that succeeding without having to actually work hard doesn't actually mean an awful lot. I struggle a lot with this in our tiny town. No one wants to push the kids to get out of their comfort zone and try something new. No one wants to encourage kids to really push themselves, to let them fail and then get them to try again. This is not just the case with sports, but with study too. Everyone is given tests which they can usually get 100% in if they have studied even a little bit. Everyone is very sheltered from real competition. In many ways it is a great environment to grow up in. Competition is often a very nasty thing. But, what I worry about is what happens when this tiny world gets bigger and bigger as they grow up and join larger junior then senior high schools then move out into the "real" world. My children have no concept of the real effort needed to be good at something as they have never been challenged to do so. My daughter starts junior high school in April. Everyone there seems to be ranked with regards to ability. Here's hoping she copes okay with this new style of learning... otherwise the kind offers to look after her in New Zealand while she completes her education might be acted on sooner rather than later!