Win or Lose, Student Competitors Should Learn to Tell Their Stories

by Diana Drake

Spring is competition season at Wharton Global Youth, as judges select the top 10 Wharton Global High School Investment Competition teams from among the 50 semifinalists and we prepare for the Global Finale, held this year on April 22 and 23.(Check out the photo above: a flashback from our 2019 Global Finale at Wharton, when Filter Coffee Investments from India took first-place honors.)

But in the end, winners are few among a strong cohort of competitors. Let’s face it, eliminations are disappointing – especially following three months of hard teamwork, strategizing and analyzing on the part of both student teams and teacher advisors. Nobody likes to lose.

Competitions come in all shapes and sizes, and inevitably some students will rise and shine, while others will feel left behind. Is it all worth it in the end?

We posed this very question to high school business educator and repeat Wharton Global Investment Competition participant Alex Lamon from Livingston High School in New Jersey. Lamon advised Chicken Stock, a student team that advanced this year to our Top 50 semifinal round, but did not get selected as a top 10 finalist.

“We need to remind our students constantly about the purpose of why they’re doing a competition.” -Alex Lamon, High School Business Teacher

Lamon, who has also advised many teams that have not advanced to the later rounds, admits that it’s hard to beat that sweet moment of success. “When we learned one of our teams made it to the top 50, it was so exciting! We got to learn as a whole class, and everyone realized what a big deal it was,” says Lamon. “We all clapped and couldn’t stop smiling. It was fun to brag to the school administrators and other investing classes, as well. They all supported the top 50 team. And since getting top 50 was a surprise, missing out on top 10 did not feel like a moment of sorrow.”

Through the several years that Lamon and his students have taken on the Wharton Global High School Investment Competition, he has developed some educator insight about winning, losing and playing the game – ideas that can really be applied to any competitive experience at the high school level. Is it worth it? Yes, says Lamon, as long as teachers remember a few guiding principles:

Learning is winning. “My advice is to focus on learning first, winning second,” he stresses. “Yes, I focus my students on the guidelines that are given as they essentially serve as a rubric that the judges will utilize. However, I find that pressure to win can sometimes lead to overly technical final reports. Also, I believe extrinsic motivation can decrease students’ interest in a subject, so keeping a love of stocks over a love of competing is key.”

Pro Tip: I specifically make sure to use the word stock market “challenge” over “competition” with my students.

Educators are motivators. “We need to remind our students constantly about the purpose of why they’re doing a competition,” suggests Lamon. “Competitions are so worth it, again because of the learning. And in the case of the Wharton competition, they aren’t simply learning about markets. They’re learning about themselves and one another. Every year, I see my students practicing their leadership, teamwork, delegation, and creativity skills. Winning, for the individual, really revolves around developing actual skills to take to the next challenge, be it stock market-related or otherwise.”

Pro Tip: You do not have to get to the top 10, or even top 50 to have these positive takeaways; you should be emphasizing them at every level of engagement.

It’s all about the story. “In the end, no matter how far your students get in the competition, they need to be able to tell a story about what they accomplished and what they learned,” notes Lamon. “Without those takeaways, the experience is lost, and whatever they did won’t matter much. I tell my students for every successful bullet point they have on their résumé, or every extracurricular they join, they should have a story about what they took away from it and what they accomplished. In their drive to be competitive, students sometimes try to collect a lot of awards or extracurriculars. But if they can’t tell a story about their growth or reflect back on what they’ve done, it’s of little value.”

Pro Tip: Encourage your students to keep a competition journal, so they can take note of the experience details while they’re happening and reflect back on them when the time is right.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of any competition season, says Lamon, is helping students to maintain the right mindset throughout weeks of effort. Educators should communicate their expectations early and often: “Getting students to value the skills and stories over winning is empowering in itself.”

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