When my daughter was very little, she spent what seemed to be almost every other weekend at the birthday of one schoolmate or another. At one critical point in this rite of passage, I started making note of the "goodie bags" she came home with. Bags that were full of pencils, pens, erasers, rubber balls, noisemakers and just about every kind of knickknack one could imagine.
When I was a kid, these goodie bags would have qualified as a gift unto themselves, and yet all party attendees were given one for "achieving" the difficult task of attending. As my daughter became older and was later joined in life by two brothers, our lives began revolving around sports. It became obvious to me that this souped-up concept of "everyone receiving something" had escalated from birthday parties to the playing field.
The origin of this practice that "everyone's a winner no matter what" has really made me question if this democratic approach has done more harm than good.
Although I don't remember all the specifics of my life in sports, one thing I am certain of as I reflect in the metaphoric rear-view mirror is that sports taught me many lessons about life. Riding the coattails of that reflection is what I learned about winning and losing, and that any time two people or two teams battle for victory with their best effort, one will win and one will LOSE!
It's unavoidable, and an extremely important lesson to teach children and young adults that in sports, like life, everyone does not get a "trophy." The "trophy" in this case can be anything -- a compliment, a promotion, an attaboy, an award or anything where more than one person is vying for the only available prize.
Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that some part of the developmental process will "teach" or "auto-mature" our children into handling success at both winning and losing as long as we continue to reward them for the simple act of participating.
'How you carry yourself'
My philosophy about success existing whether there is victory or defeat is based on what my Little League coach once said in that, "it's not about the moment where your win or lose that matters, but what you do and how you carry yourself after these things have taken place."
Nothing about these wise words of my past coach could be closer to the truth. Yet parents and coaches have felt an ever-pressing need to insulate children from what they consider to be esteem threats, choosing instead to overcompensate by declaring everyone victorious regardless of the endeavor. Of course, I am well aware that there are qualifications in place that weed out exceptional performance for "all-star" teams within every sport; however, this is often the first time children are ever exposed to the fact that they don't get the "trophy" simply for participating.
I am not a psychologist, nor do I pretend to be, but I seriously question what good we are doing for any child who enters that proverbial "field of battle" -- a field on which they will compete for most of their lives -- if we continue to offer so much praise as a buffer that postpones some of life's most significant lessons.
Bill Victor owns Victor Fitness System Professional Fitness Trainers, Flashpoint Athletic Speed & Agility Specialists, and Performance Nutrition Consultants. Reach him at 360-750-0815, firstname.lastname@example.org, theflashpoint.org or victorfitnesssystems.com.