I am a former National Spelling Bee contestant. (The bee was less serious back then and I didn't study very much, but anyway.) I think the environment and prep is useful in the same way that any kind of elite competition is useful. Regardless, you get to the Bee by winning one smaller bee after another. I'm not sure Val's daughter set out to do it from the start as much as she has proven that she is highly competent and now is challenging herself to go farther. That's what happened with me, anyway--and I would certainly have been gobsmacked if someone had suggested that I stop. I got a free trip to DC out of it, after all, and it was a nice experience.

As I say, I did not study very much (I was a young competitor--only 11--and lacked discipline), but since school was easy for me at the time, I can't see how it would have harmed me and would likely have been good for me. OTOH, my parents left it up to me, which I respect. I did not do well, but knew that was my own doing. I was regionally competitive, but not nationally.