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December 9th, 2011

‘I bet I’ll beat you’

This is a phrase used a lot in the sessions we run. Competition is an element that is so important in our work and especially (although not exclusively) our engagement with young men. Last night in our new older session for young people (School Year 10 to age 19) Alex (name changed) won 38 consecutive games of Table Tennis (up to 11)! I think, since records begun (this is a loose term in respect of counting games) this is the longest someone has ever stayed on the table tennis table, the entire 2 hour session.

Afterwards we had a brief conversation about whether we should have intervened on the informal rules of the table set up by the  young people of ‘winner stays on’ to let more people have a go, but decided against this. The young people decided the rule and implement it and none of them had a problem with Alex’s domination of the table. He provided the competition for the evening – ‘who can get Alex off the table’. Everyone had a go, leaders included. In fact I was ‘white-washed’ which means the score reached 6-0 and I was simply dismissed from the table as a waste of time!  Our instinct can sometimes be to make things so ‘fair’ that we end up trying to protect young people from experiencing loss or failure of any kind. But actually this creates a slightly false environment as outside of the walls of the youth club life is full of competition where some people are better than you at some things and you are better than them at other things. Failures and losses can also, as in the above  example, be a really motivating, driving force for improvement. The trick for us at the Canaan Project is to let this lesson be learnt in a safe environment where it is reflected upon.

This learning is another part of the process of moving from childhood and dependence to adulthood and inter-dependance. Losing at Table Tennis could hold more significance than it may first seem!