I recently went to pick up the little boy I babysit from his Little League game. He ran toward me, trophy in hand. “Congratulations! Your team won!” I said excitedly. “Yeah! Everyone got a trophy because we are all winners!” he said, beaming.
The smile immediately disappeared from my face, and suddenly, I was actively restraining from saying, “What a load of crap, Jimmy. What is the point of playing the game if 'everyone wins’? Real life doesn’t work that way; you’re in for a rude awakening.”
Instead, I nodded and smiled and helped him get his bags in the car.
That Little League incident really got me thinking about the ways we are teaching the next generation to think and how we are defining success, as a society. Although winning isn’t the only definition of success, there must be a distinction, somewhere.
If we are operating in a world where every kid makes the team or gets a trophy regardless of effort or skill, we are setting ourselves up to have a future generation of seriously out of touch and delusional adults.
Hey, nobody is a bigger believer in following your dreams and setting lofty goals than I am. But, I’m also a big believer in realistic expectations, hard work and a competitive mindset.
Lately, I’ve noticed many kids, and even young adults, who are encouraged to “do whatever they want in life” by their parents, the media, friends, etc. Yet, they are lacking the actual constructive criticism and guidance to do so successfully.
When they fail, or fall short of the endeavors, they are encouraged to blindly pursue and are still given pats on the back. They are told, “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, just as long as you tried your best.” Huh? Of course it matters.
I can guarantee you that there are no Olympians who don’t care about winning and are just there to “try their best.”
As Vince Lombardi said,
If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score?
It seems that we are afraid to allow the "losers" to feel disappointed. But, why are we content to be complacent with mediocrity? Losing is inevitable and that’s a good thing. It’s important to lose and to know how to lose.
If we don’t lose and allow ourselves to feel the impact and disappointment of the loss, how can we appreciate and value the win? Losing should feel disappointing and motivate us to work harder. Winning should feel triumphant. If the two feel the same, something is wrong.
Competition encompasses far more than just athletics — and we are talking about much more than a Little League game here. It all translates directly to real life. What a shock those kids will have as adults when they realize they aren’t entitled to the same raise as their colleagues who were promoted first.
By protecting them from feeling hurt or inadequate for a loss, we end up doing them a much greater disservice by failing to prepare them for reality. That's right, Jimmy; Carol got the raise because she put in the work to earn it.
The fact is, it does matter who wins and who loses. Life is all about competition and successful people are the ones who step in the ring and fight to win. If the winners are getting the same treatment as the losers, the winners will inevitably lose their incentive.
If the results don’t matter, what’s the point? Bottom line: There’s a difference between being supportive of a loss and being an enabler of a delusional mindset.
The winners get trophies. The losers? None for you, Gretchen Weiners.
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