How About a Little Competition?

re-posted – because you’ve never read it.

Remember when you “made the team”?  Maybe you’re old enough to remember when you went to try-outs, struggled through practice, had a number pinned on your shirt as you caught grounders and fly balls and waited your turn at bat.  You stood in front of coaches or judges and “nailed it” as best you could, but that “best” doesn’t seem to mean anything anymore.  There’s  no question that self-esteem is important for a child, but so is accomplishment.  Where does self-esteem come from?  Through winning or just showing up and wearing a uniform?

Have you been to the soccer games in which every game ends in a 0-0 tie?  And have you gagged when you heard that rule?  My sister was first-team all-state in softball, and that was as a freshman.  Her son is now about to start a much-anticipated high school baseball career.  When he was about 6 and playing in some sort of little kids pseudo-baseball league in which about ten kids formed a wall from first to third base, he let a ball go through his legs at shortstop.  My brother called to him, reminding him to bend his knees, get his butt and his glove down towards the ball.  The coach approached my brother and said, “Sir, we don’t talk to the kids like that here.”  Brother said, “What?”  Coach said, “We don’t draw attention to their mistakes.  We just want to encourage them so they’ll have a good time.”  Brother said, “No no.  You don’t understand.”  Let’s keep in mind my brother has an NCAA National Championship ring for baseball and Mom is in her high school athletic hall of fame.  “How’s he supposed to get better if we don’t tell him what he did wrong?”  Coach said, “That’s something you can do on your own if you want, but we don’t do that here.”

Now, I recognize that’s a nice idea, but what about the parents who don’t have championship rings or mom’s who were first-team all-state?  What about the kids who want to play sports, who want to get better, but there’s nobody in their lives who is capable of doing anything more than driving them to practice and a coach who doesn’t know how to do anything except hand out cotton candy?  It seems that we’re becoming comfortable with mediocrity.  We’re backing off on the praise for the really outstanding kids because we’re worried about the regular kids who might be unhappy because they weren’t outstanding too.  We’re more concerned with feelings than results.  I know that there are times when each deserves to come first, but I have trouble seeing that come first on an athletic field.  I’m not advocating screaming at a kid who strikes out, but I am adhering to the idea that you learn more from your mistakes than successes.  There are many successes that are accidental, and those moments are not going to continue to be successful in the future.

If i guess correctly at a math question involving converting fractions to decimals, my teacher might assume that I know what I’m doing.  Then that teacher might also move on to other kids, which isn’t a bad thing.  What about next time, when again I guess but wrongly?  Then the teacher is going to be less thrilled with me for screwing up, and now I’m starting from behind because I had moved along all this time thinking I knew what I was doing, when really I didn’t.  So there’s an instance, albeit extreme, where I was successful but didn’t learn anything.  The kid next to me?  She got it wrong the first time.  She got extra attention from the teacher right away, and now she’s cruising through the third row of problems while I’m trying to get a new eraser because of all the mistakes I’ve made.

In a town I won’t name, there’s a high school cheerleading squad with 30 girls, 30 teenagers with cell phones and a desire to talk trash about anyone else as soon as one of them walks away.  It’s a Facebook disaster waiting to happen.  Thirty girls is fifteen too many, but the coach isn’t allowed to hold tryouts or cut anyone because the school district is too worried about the wrath of the parents and the self-esteem of the girls who don’t make the squad.  However, because they are all guaranteed a spot, they hold no value for it.  If the coach isn’t allowed to cut anyone, even for poor behavior, they kids are going to behave like brats, like when some of the girls refused to cheer because they didn’t like the manner in which the coach talked to them.

When the coach finally did attempt to kick a girl off the team, that girl’s mother sent threatening e-mails to the coach, athletic director, and principal.  With each e-mail, the coach offered to meet with and talk to the parents in person, but each time they refused and sent more threatening e-mails until finally the school administration put the girl back on the team and reprimanded the coach, all because the cheerleader had suffered “irreparable harm to her self-esteem.”  If a coach curses at or touches my kid forcefully, yeah, I want an apology at least.  But if my kid is breaking team rules, then I want my kid reprimanded instead.  Schools are giving too much power to parents and even more power to the kids.

If it’s not cheerleaders, it’s football, basketball, or anything else that involves a team.  Did I say “team”?  Oh, I forgot, we don’t have “teams” anymore.  We have collections of individuals all out to improve their stats and chances of a scholarship.  This is why parents hold their kids back from what should be their first year of kindergarten, so they’ll be a year older, bigger, faster, stronger, and (not always) smarter than the rest of the class.  Then they’ll stand out more on the field, on the court, in the classroom, and (maybe) on the SAT and college applications.We all want our kids to succeed, but at what cost?  Is it worth it for your kid to be at the top of the class when they’re really in the wrong class?  If that’s what it takes to get a top college scholarship, well maybe so, even though you’re kind of cheating against younger kids.  It’s kind of like putting an 8th grader in gym class against 7th graders.  It may seem like only one year, but it’s also 12% of their educational life.And what do you say to your kid when he or she is about to be a high school senior, and they figure out that they really should have graduated the previous year?  Maybe they’ll think it’s worth it because of the rewards, or maybe they’ll be a little upset if they think that you’ve cheated them out of a year of their life.  By allowing everyone to make the team, it no longer means anything to make the team.  By giving every kid a trophy, they’re not worth the recycled soda can they were made from.

45 thoughts on “How About a Little Competition?

  1. Sports are really competitive out here in Colorado. My son had a t-ball coach that bordered on abusive! Some how they survived.
    I did find that “We never bruise the child’s ego” was alive and well in school with discipline.
    Great repost!

  2. Hmmm….I agree, there needs to be some sort of achievement that came with the trying. Otherwise it’d just be like, what’s the point? But I never even tried out for anything at school, never bothered because I never thought I would get anywhere with them. Maybe I was just lazy…but I always thought, neh what’s the point?

  3. Excellent post. We’re ruining our kids with this sycophantic mentality and raising children with no spines or ability to persevere through adversity.

    *uggh* major pet peeve soapbox issue with me

  4. Hi Rich,

    Great post. Have you seen the movie, Idiocracy? You might get a kick out of it. (Sort of.)

    We are breeding our nation’s downfall, fostering failure and one day the entire country will be too stupid to look back and wonder how it happened.



  5. Great re-post and I could not agree with you more! I hate the uniformity that society is trying to meld into these days… it is especially frustrating as a parent. I like when my kids have to fight for something they want. I like when they are knocked down a peg and have to get up and fight for it more. Teaches them alot. I could go on with my rant but you covered everything so well 🙂
    I loved the pics even more…

  6. Completely agree – it’s a competitive world out there, why shelter them from that and then launch them into it as completely unprepared adults? I remember a phase in some schools where teachers weren’t allowed to mark red crosses next to answers that the kids had got wrong because it was demoralising for the kids (?!). It was all about focusing on the work that was done correctly and just ignoring what wasn’t. How is someone supposed to learn from mistakes if they don’t have mistakes pointed out to them?

    • Thanks miss. In 25 years teaching, I never stopped using red, even when told to put it down. Needless to say most other teachers either loved me or hated me.

  7. So many great thoughts Rich. I am not a mathematical or scientific mind at all. I went to grade school in the sixties when intimidation was a tool used to “encourage” a student in the subjects they were falling behind in. My math teacher was sch an intimidator. She shoved my face into the chalk board when I stood staring at the problem on the board, stabbed me with a pencil when I couldn’t do a math problem on a test, etc. When I was well out of high school, I took a night course called Developmental Mathematics that covered grade and high school maths. While the first time around I scored D’s and E’s, I A+’d that course as an adult. I was never encouraged in literature, art class or music, the subjects I was really good at. The pendulum has swung and is stuck way too far at the other end.

  8. Great article. I remember every try out I ever had…and there were a lot…but the ones most remembered? the ones i failed. why? because they taught me never to make the same mistakes twice. a lesson i needed to learn then and still use today. kids today, and for the last 2 decades, have been shortchanged a valuable tool. competition is a great motivator to reach your potential and beyond…no part of these kid’s lives, in school and beyond, will be without some form of competition. better to learn to deal with and learn from disappointment early than become some psychiatrist’s couch potato later because they can’t deal with the day to day ‘trauma’ of disillusionment and disappointment.

  9. A while back I attended a teacher training course for English language tuition aimed at foreign speakers. The tutors running the course told us that we should not correct students as this would harm their self-esteem and confidence. As a direct result of this moronic principle none of the younger teacher applicants coming from countries as diverse as Portugal, Germany and Czech Republic could actually speak or write the language they were proposing to teach to other foreign language students. Only the “old timers” who had received corrections to their diction, pronounciation, spelling, grammar etc could actually pass the test and get a teacher training certificate. How mad is that? Rich, this is a great post and should be mailed to all schools, colleges and universities in the world!

  10. I agree — and competition breeds determination!

    Not everyone can win at everything. If that’s the case we should call off the upcoming London Olympics.

  11. Thanks for that, it was really interesting because I thought this was an English problem. It actually sounds worse in Amercia than over here. – Oh dear, is that my competitive spirit coming out? (joke)

  12. You are so right, Rich — we’ve gone off the deep end in trying to keep kids from having low self esteem. Everything they do is wonderful, you can’t criticize, you’re a winner just because you participated, etc. I’m a little creeped out at what will happen when this generation gets older, because their whole sense of accomplishment and entitlement will be completely skewed.

  13. I love it when these kids grow up, and get jobs in real corporations like the one I work for. Then, we eat their lunch, and they quit. Unearned self-esteem is probably the worst thing you can do for a kid’s ego. No matter how delusion the kid is, he knows that he has no real skills. They end up fearing even trying.

    At work, we have no sympathy. The business world still operates on Darwinian principles.

  14. Sounds very familiar!!! You don’t have to name any school… it sure happens at every school!!! Empowering children and parents for the wrong reasons… Arrrg I see the sucking admins behind this!!!!

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