Playing to Win:

Raising Children in a Competitive Culture

by Hilary Levey Friedman

298 pages, $29.95

For her book Playing to Win, Harvard graduate Hilary Levey Friedman spent nine months observing competitive dance through the lens of two Boston-area dance studios (I.D.-ed with pseudonyms). The question on her mind: Does involvement in a win-or-lose culture help students succeed? Friedman chose three activities to find the answer—dance, soccer and chess. She watched classes at Elite Dance Academy in Metroville and Let’s Dance Studio in Westbrook, and she traveled with them to regional and national events, talking to teachers, parents and students.

Her question is difficult to answer. She admits that there’s no way to know if these kids are accepted to better colleges, work in more prestigious careers or achieve greater upward socioeconomic mobility than those in noncompetitive extracurriculars. What is clear is that competition, though sometimes flawed, teaches young people how to perform under pressure, recover from public failure and work toward long-term goals, among other lessons. And that “competitive kid capital” as she calls it, expands the possibilities of what young people believe they can achieve later in life, pushing them to set their goals a bit higher than the rest.