Recently I was sitting at a park watching a couple of little league games and thinking about how I had heard, with many of the different sports and school activities for younger children, they were no longer keeping score or declaring winners and losers. Instead they were declaring everyone was a winner because they were participants and giving out trophies and medals to all. This mentality of protecting children from feeling the agony of defeat is only hurting those children more. How are they going to understand what it feels like when they don’t get a job because their resume or education isn’t as good as the other candidate? When they get fired because they don’t do the job well enough even though they show up every day to work and put the hours in? They won’t, and then they’ll wonder why someone isn’t there handing them a medal or trophy saying, thanks for playing, you did great.
I grew up playing baseball and I wasn’t always on the best team, but I never whined when I didn’t get a trophy just for playing because I knew in order to win one you had to play your best. My first year in fast pitch baseball, I think I was 7; I was on the worst team in our league. We didn’t win a single game and I honestly don’t think we were ever within 5 runs of any team when the game ended. Did I get trophy for sticking with it? No. I got a pat on the back from the coaches and a, “thanks for playing,” handshake. I didn’t go home crying because the top three teams got trophies for their accomplishments and I didn’t. I also didn’t mope the rest of the summer either, because I enjoyed playing baseball, but I also just liked playing and losing some baseball games wasn’t going to keep me locked in my room upset about losing. Instead I went home and thought to myself, next year I am going to go out there and try my best to help my team achieve a winning season so we have a chance at being on top, and then went over to my friend’s house to play whiffle ball.
Another personal instance I have of defeat is a couple years after my first year in the league. I had worked at becoming a better individual player to try and help my team win and in doing so had become one of the better players in the league and had made the all-star roster. It was such an emotional high when the team got announced and my name was called. I had finally accomplished one of my goals I had set out for myself after feeling what it was like to lose. But that feeling was short lived, after our first practice it was brought to my attention by my coach that because of some papers misfiled, I wasn’t going to be able to be on the team. I sat on the bench with the other all-stars as he told me this trying to hold in my emotions. I was nine and doing so was tough. I was devastated. I had worked so hard trying to make myself better and had finally gotten the recognition for that work, then had it all taken away because papers were lost.
I remember going home after that practice and sitting on my dad’s lap in the living room and crying. I couldn’t control myself, I was upset and no comforting words from my parents could take away that feeling of defeat. I could see the pain in my parent’s eyes as they tried to console me, but there was nothing that could be done, I was not going to be an all-star. But I didn’t let that knock me down. I continued to play baseball. I didn’t give up or feel like I deserved something because they had taken away my hard work, I continued to pursue my passion and play baseball. Even as I became an average player compared to many of my teammates in high school, I continued to play.
I am not saying we should call the kids on the losing team’s losers, but we shouldn’t be handing out trophies and medals like candy. Our job as adults is to teach children how to be ready for life once they are out on their own. We need to hand them the tools necessary to handle life’s obstacles. It is not our job to protect them from anything that may hurt them while they are kids, but to teach them how to accept failure and use it to make themselves stronger, because we won’t always be there to protect them.
So I guess where I am going with this little rant is that letting kids lose and feel the pain of failure isn’t the end of the world. Most often these kids will forget about that instance in their life by the following week. These kids will also benefit by learning from that pain and still feel as if they accomplished something even if they don’t have a trophy to show for it. Because a mantel full of participation trophies is just a cluttered mess, whereas a childhood full of lessons learned from winning and losing will help that child understand life when things don’t always go as planned.
Disclaimer: I don’t have children, so I know some readers might want to argue I don’t understand because I don’t have to deal with an upset child, but from what you just read, you can see I have experience with defeat and feel no ill will towards it and actually believe it is a great tool in teaching life lessons.