Redefining “winning”…really?

We are in full swing of a new school year, and with that is also a new season of sports for our three boys. Well, actually only for one of our boys, the other two are waiting it out to see if something comes along that is worthy of giving up time with their iPods. (grumble, grumble…)

Our youngest is only six. He’s still at that age when it’s all exciting and fun and he’s just glad to be out running with other kids his age. He’s always loved soccer in theory, but now he has to put it out there and actually play a match for an hour. He has to keep control of the ball while he runs against a group of other boys and block shots while he is protecting the goal. And all of this in a seeming brew of chaos of red and blue on a field that looks as if it goes on forever. Whew!

The thing that struck me as odd was the “agreement” that was required to be signed by the players parents and guardians. Some of the listed things required good sportsmanship, no name-calling, respecting each other and other teams. I’m all for that, and glad that someone has the presence of mind to put it into print so the maniac parent who may be at the match screaming at their kid and making unkind remarks to the other kids may realize that their behavior will not be tolerated (trust me, they’re out there and they are just as frightening to the other adults as they are to the kids playing). No, it’s not those points that I have a problem with, it’s the one listed in the middle of the list “we will redefine what winning means”. Really? Has it changed since I was in grade school? I had no idea!

According to this agreement, winning is about playing your best and giving it your all. It’s not about keeping score, it’s not about being the best necessarily, it’s about playing your best…and having fun. Sounds good for the most part, but is that really what “winning” means?

I may seem like a “militant mommy” with this, but winning is winning. When did it become a negative attribute to want to win? Or to keep score for that matter? And when was it deemed acceptable to make “everyone a winner”??

I grew up knowing that when I played a game – even so young as playing checkers or cards with my family – that someone will win and some (or generally the rest of us) will lose, and I was okay with that idea. If it mattered to me to be the best at a game or sport I played more and practiced to get better. If I didn’t have a passion for it I found something else that I might like better or was better suited to do.

Isn’t that what we are expected to do in life in general?

My connection with this to our grown-up world is to translate it to the workplace of adults. Let’s say that you work in an office doing what you do with a team of other people doing generally the same thing. You all started out making the same amount of money the day you were hired – that’s fair as long as you all have the same education and qualifications for the job, right? Now, six months later you’re all reviewed. During that six months you have put in 60 hours a week to work on big projects for the firm and have helped them secure better clients because of it. Your neighbor in the cubicle next to yours has gone home every day at 5pm, never worked a weekend or holiday, and is working on everyday menial tasks that could be done by a monkey.

The firm informs you the day of the reviews that they are going to give everyone equal raises across the board, regardless of work ethics or workload of the individual. And all promotions will be done on the same timeline regardless of the time and/or effort of the individual. Would you stay? Or would you be firing up your laptop to rework your resume and start looking for another position in a company that values your hard work and good work ethic?

I’m guessing that you wouldn’t sit back and say, “well, that makes sense, because we’re all part of the same team and should be paid the same…we’re all winners! And I’d hate for monkey-boy to feel bad about himself because he didn’t get the same raise or promotion as me, that would be bad for his self-esteem.”

I’m not saying that we have to be brutal with our kids – I’m as guilty as the next parent for wanting at times to bubble-wrap my kids to protect them in some instances – but I try to hold back and let them figure it out and learn from their experiences. Losing is part of that life lesson, and the sooner that they get a taste of it the faster they will decide if they want to keep trying in that sport, activity, etc. If you think about it, it would save a lot of sanity for all if kids were given the choice to realize their talents (and shortcomings) and to make the decision to push harder in something that they love. Also they may try something else that they may excel in to replace it instead of  floating along in a sport or activity that they may not be cut out for in the long run. It’s okay to play sports for fun in your own backyard and not play them on the field that keeps score. It’s okay to like something that you’re not good at and to keep doing it for your own personal satisfaction.

I guess that I worry that we are raising a society of “perceived winners” which gives us too many privileged, pouty, slacker adults to contend with in the end. This heavy sided fulcrum of “winners” will not help us as a country (or generation) to move forward or excel in many ways, if at all. The same percentage of real winners – or top workers, top athletes, top students – will be expected to excel and to drag the heavy weight of the rest behind them, so that nobody gets their feelings hurt or feels bad about themselves. Is that what we want for our kids? I don’t.

I want my kids to fight for what they believe in, to push to be the best in what they love, to try new things.  But I also want them to know that they may not be the “best” at it and that THAT’S OKAY. You can’t be the best at everything. You won’t always make the team or be chosen for the group. You won’t always get a medal or a trophy just for being on the team. That is the stuff that you have to earn, and when you do earn it it will mean so much more to you. Life is not a carnival with consolation prizes just for showing up. Anything worth doing is worth doing well – and sometimes that means doing it better than anyone else. Or as our family likes to say, winning.

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