Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture follows the path of elementary school-age children involved in competitive dance, youth travel soccer, and scholastic chess.
Why do American children participate in so many adult-run activities outside of the home, especially when family time is so scarce? By analyzing the roots of these competitive afterschool activities and their contemporary effects, Playing to Win contextualizes elementary school-age children's activities, and suggests they have become proving grounds for success in the tournament of life—especially when it comes to coveted admission to elite universities, and beyond.
In offering a behind-the-scenes look at how "Tiger Moms" evolve, Playing to Win introduces concepts like competitive kid capital, the carving up of honor, and pink warrior girls. Perfect for those interested in childhood and family, education, gender, and inequality, Playing to Win details the structures shaping American children's lives as they learn how to play to win.
In this impressive study, sociologist Friedman explores the American trend of middle-class elementary-school-age children participating in competitive activities. She identifies "Competitive Kid Capital" "(1) internalizing the importance of winning, (2) bouncing back from a loss to win in the future, (3) learning how to perform within time limits, (4) learning how to succeed in stressful situations, and (5) being able to perform under the gaze of others" as an advantage that parents hope will carry their children to elite colleges and successful lives. Here, tournament chess, competitive dance, and travel soccer serve as examples that show how parents, children, coaches, and others create a tightly scheduled subculture in which extrinsic rewards matter and the carving up of honor is balanced against a savvy awareness among children that "participation" awards don't confer real status. Although parents want to raise well-rounded children, Friedman also sees, among parents, grooming for normative gender and social roles, with parents sharing definitions of boys as jocks, nerds, or "fags" and girls as graceful, aggressive, or "pink warriors." By interviewing both parents and children, Friedman provides great insight about each group. This study is vital reading for parents and educators interested in how the American idea of winners and losers is trickling down to the next generation.