To the right is a picture from the Southern Region Oireachtas in Washington, D.C., December 2010. Three boys from three different schools. Friends and competitors in the same competitions- Cameron, Nick, and Zane.
Things can always get a little sticky when combining competition and friendship.
Everyone wants to win.
So, how can kids be friends and support each other even when they're competing against one another?
As the mom of Irish dancers who've been pretty successful at making friends and keeping friends even in the thick of competition, I feel I have some words of advice.
First, it's all about the parenting. Really!
How can I say this? Well, to be honest? Ummmm........ I've seen parents who are so competitive that in the beginning it's stressful, but eventually, it just kills the joy and good sportsmanship lessons that can be gained from being a competitive Irish dancer. My heart goes out to these kids.
I keep telling myself that I can only parent my own kids. I do find that I've made many friends along the way in our life in Irish dance and now find myself watching competitions of kids who don't even go to our Irish dance school. I've seen these kids grow up over the years and feel a bond to them, and I genuinely like their parents and enjoy spending time with them at feises.
So, in the parenting, it's about what we as adults are modeling! What are we showing our dancers? From an early age, are we encouraging our Irish dancers to say, "Good job," to the other competitors? Yes, they need to be "in the zone" and ready to go out there and give it their all-- to "kick butt' as the Irish dancers like to say. Hopefully, we are also helping them see the potential for making lasting friendships along the way.
Second, if the kids are old enough, I've found great benefits from sharing e-mail addresses or Facebook info. It helps the kids to maintain their friendships and to learn about the side of their friends that isn't always Irish dancing.
My son keeps up with friends from all over the country who he's met through Irish dance competitons and Irish dance camp. It's a great way to see the goofy other side of each other. I especially love to see the support for Irish dance wins or losses that is given by these friends he's made.
Finally, As important as Irish dance can feel some days and at some competitions, it's most important to realize and appreciate the mutual bond shared just by being an Irish dancer or an Irish dance parent.
Win, lose, or draw, it's important to encourage and support the friends we've made through Irish dance. Winning is amazing, but when there's only one person winning, it's an important thing to remember that everyone came to do their very best. If you can, focus on something you saw that was wonderful about another dancer or child of a parent that you are friends with. These Irish dancing kids are all working so hard and have their own unique strengths and talents.
I've made some wonderful friendships in the world of Irish dance. Yes, I want my kid to come in first. Who doesn't? However, I'm cheering for all of the dancers-- sometimes a little louder for the kids of friends I've made along the way whether they're from our Irish dance school or not. On the other hand, my heart breaks a little when I see kids have a bad feis day. I know how that feels, and how hard that is as a mom to the kiddo who didn't get the results they wanted. A pat on the back from me is good. However, watching my kids take it upon themselves to give a hug or kind word on their own with no prompting from this momma is even better.
I want my kids to be the best, but it's more important for me to know that they're being their best. To me that means that they are growing in character and kindness as much or more than in talent in Irish dance.