It's a Grand Slam match-up at the Australian Open of epic proportions.

Two beloved veterans, two of the best there's ever been, facing off in a nostalgic final.

Observe the situation closely. Federer and Nadal are at the height of their competition, their skills largely undiminished, yet they never step into the extreme of over-competitiveness.

Their incredible match highlights the marvel of skill, the pinnacle of talent, the relentless pursuit of personal goals, and shining amongst it all – respectful competition.

Where is the learning in this world view of how to ‘play the game’ for our young people? Even more so, where is the learning for us, their teachers, their guides, their mentors?

Can we re-frame competition in our classrooms? When we step away from the busyness of teaching and act as observers, over-competitiveness is surprisingly highlighted in more areas of our school life than perhaps we realise. And who is creating it – them or us?

  • Grading
  • Ranking
  • Selecting
  • Awarding
  • Scoring
  • Judging

If you don’t feel it, perhaps it is because you are not standing at the other end of the court, on the receiving end of that almighty smash, being handed yet another D or E, that has swiped you another point away from the win.

On Saturday I went to a funeral. A friend’s father had passed. I hadn’t actually ever met his dad. As we so often do, I was attending for the living. Yet, I felt I got to know ‘Stan the Man’, listening to the endearing stories recounted by his family.

One story in particular stood out. Stan was a regular blokey bloke who coached the local footy side to several premierships. To reach premiership status, just like Federer and Nadal, Stan had to have focussed on skill development and tireless training. Yet Stan the Man made a decision. It was his job to coach something else as well. He moulded his footy boys into respectful young men. They were still hungry for the win. Yet they achieved it with respect – and that became respect for themselves.

Rafael Nadal stands tall, his hand moves ritualistically across his face. He calls for a replay.

Monash University’s new slogan emboldens the Caulfield Campus as I drive by: “New problems require new thinking.”  A spin on Einstein’s observation perhaps, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Yet, I feel that Einstein’s epiphany was subtlety deeper than the Monash mantra. For old problems require new thinking, too.

In our world, we are still grappling with greed, corporate over-competitiveness, people prepared to ‘win at all costs’ to the sheer detriment of others, and our planet. Age-old problems indeed.

There is a new movement out there - to shift the dominant paradigm from ‘I win, you lose’ to ‘When I win, you win too.’

How do we successfully play this out in our classrooms? I can promise you, as with Nadal and Federer, we won’t lose the skills; we will enhance the output; we won’t disempower, we will build majestically.

As teachers, we invite critical thinking into our classrooms. I’m asking you to apply it now. Critical thought. If every day certain children receive a D or an E, they are ranked and judged - every day. Is that respectful competition? What are the procedures and processes we use that we take to be the norm, that perhaps we could change, perhaps we could tweak? Thought that is critical to society. What happens in education, translates to building the infrastructure of our society.

Roger Federer stands tall; trophy held aloft. He speaks these words: “There are no draws in tennis but if there was, I would have been happy to draw with Rafa.”

There it isn’t, Roger. You are the winner. And yet, by your and Nadal’s standards, the game wins, too – and by transference, so do we all.

Every day we play the game of life in our classrooms.

What is your 'premiership' in your classroom? Your ‘win’ that is their ‘win’ too?

For Stan the Man, for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, respect occurs only when we choose to play the game that way.