The value of contests
Kelley Rice, Panhandle District 4-H Coordinator, Panhandle Research and Extension Center, Scottsbluff
Editor’s note: February is Nebraska 4-H Month.
The word contest (or competition) stirs an enormous amount of emotion. Some relish the excitement, while others want to avoid it at all costs. However you feel about competition, it is a fact of life.
Youth compete in speech, DECA, music, sports, and of course, 4-H. But competition does not end with graduation. Youth also compete for scholarships and college acceptance, while adults are in competition for jobs, promotions, marketing and sales.
So if everyone is expected to compete, how can 4-H contests prepare youth for this lifelong skill? First, 4-H is centered on Positive Youth Development (PYD). The contests offered through 4-H celebrate the learning process, not just the ribbon or trophy. These contests encourage youth to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zone within a safe environment.
The contest most associated with 4-H is the county and State Fair. However, youth may also compete in the Premier Animal Science Event (PASE) or Life (Family and Consumer Science) challenges as well as Robotics, Speech, Public Service Announcement, and Interview contests. These opportunities may also lead to competing at a Regional, State, and/or National level. While some contests are geared toward older youth, most are open to all 4-H youth with the judging criteria based on the developmental age of the child.
Stories echo across the state of individuals who have joined 4-H eager to learn but terrified to compete. Through the encouragement of a trusted adult, these youth initially may participate in a one-on-one conversation with a judge answering various questions about a project. Once they have tasted success, they may decide to record a 1-minute public service announcement (PSA), and then are soon on their way to being able to deliver an eloquent 5-minute speech. They may or may not go on to “win” a contest, but they have learned the skills needed to organize their thoughts in order to speak confidently and effectively throughout their lifetime.
Contests also have the ability to bring about the absolute best in an individual. Knowing that others are working toward the same goal creates an environment that encourages creative thinking and focus. Individuals are pushed to think outside the box and not be satisfied with the status quo. It encourages youth to think strategically, finding ways to accentuate their strengths and discover how to overcome their weaknesses.
While discussing benefits of competition, it would be remiss to underestimate the difficulties that will be encountered along the way. With any new endeavor, there will be obstacles to overcome. Youth will feel inadequate, will not know how to organize themselves, and will want to quit. However, as PYD experts, 4-H professional and volunteers have the responsibility to encourage youth to see their infinite potential and celebrate every victory.