Are You Winning?

In America, there is an interesting trend in youth sports especially in soccer. A lot of children’s leagues have stopped keeping score at games. That means little Bobby’s team could be blitzed 10-0 in a game and still happily go home without the label of “loser”. I won’t lie. I was seriously bothered when I heard about this. I understand the desire to protect children from the sadness and disappointment of being a loser, but are you doing them any favors by not teaching them how to handle failure, something we’re all bound to experience at some point? 

I spent a few hours ranting and raving to myself about the lessons that children were being denied by not keeping score: how to handle failure, the sweet taste of victory especially when you come from behind or the glory of lifting a trophy after a successful campaign. Then it hit me. Both the youth league and I have it wrong. Sport shouldn’t just be about winning, but it also shouldn’t just be about fun. Important life lessons are learnt on that soccer field, lessons that you will carry through life.

The thing with keeping score in game of baseball played by a bunch of 6 year olds is that we give them the impression from a very young age that life is a competition against other people and the only way to win is to beat them. And it’s not just in sports. It’s when we give each child a number position at the end of the year based on their school results. It’s when we give girl scouts prizes for selling the most cookies. In the formative years, children learn that it is not about doing well, but rather doing better than others. Is it any wonder then that when these children reach their twenties and their friends start to move on to bigger and better things, they find themselves unhappy and feeling small because they not doing as well as others.

Judging your achievements by comparing them to those of others is not the way to measure success or to find it. If you measure how well you’re doing by comparing yourself to others you will always be unhappy because there will always be someone better than you. Such comparisons lead to a belief that someone else’s happiness and success somehow takes away from you own. That’s not how it works. We all have different talents, and we’re all chasing different prizes. Each of us is in her own race and that is against herself.

It’s not easy competing against you. It’s a lot easier to compete against others, easier to rationalize our shortcomings by saying things like “Well I’d be just as fast as him if I had good genes.” Competing against yourself requires courage to know that it’s all down to you. It requires taking responsibility for your situation. You have to admit that not only are you responsible for getting yourself in this situation, but you’re responsible for getting yourself out.

We need to be teaching our children that the only thing that matters is not “Did I win?”, or “Did I have fun?”, but rather “Did I do my best?” We waste too much time comparing ourselves to others instead of questioning whether we’re putting in enough effort. Only you can know just how much effort you’ve put in. Only you can know if you’re winning the race against yourself. So are you winning?

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7 thoughts on “Are You Winning?

  1. I really loved this one! Thanks Chido. Very true. Did I do my best? hmmmm there is the whole truth right there. Am I really doing my best? Its a challenge with yourself and no- one else. That seeps into finding yourself and taking the lead to be the best you can be, not because of others but because you choose to simply embed it in you to become the best of you. Children deserve to learn this. There will be less arrogant and mean adults trying to beat the other.

    • I think it makes it easier to deal with disappointment. If you know that you gave it your all, and really put everything on the line, then you never have to wonder what might have been if you’d tried a little harder.

  2. I read this article with interest. I have a similar experience with the American education system. Students are not given class or grade positions. I found it strange that students never get to know who is doing better than them. I remember during my school days, we were driven by the spirit of competiveness. We all strived to be number one. Because, I was always among the top in my class, I never got to know how it felt to be at the bottom. On the contrary if you look at Chinese students in the US, they have been trained to be competitive back in China. Is this not the reason why the US is falling behind in STEM subjects. No doubt, American students find it hard when they get to college and find themselves jumping from major to major. They lack the foundation for competitiveness. When the going gets tough, they are found not wanting. As the author said, our kids need to be prepared for failure and be motivated to succeed. If everything is labelled as success its difficult to derive motivation. How does one know they have done their best, if there is no reference point. The pain of failure is necessary and it hards you and prepares you for the future. Its better to face the pain of failure when you can go home and get comfort in the arms of your mum and dad than when you are on your own. Thats why as we grow we get different treatment from our parents. As a baby, when you cry your mum will sing a lalluby for you, but as you transition from a toddler up, crying can be silenced by a strong look. Its preparing you for the hard life in the world. I personnally think American kids might find themselves way way behind in the future.

    • You’re right that children need to learn how to deal with failure, but you also said that you were always near the top of your class. So was I. I really don’t know how it feels to always be the one who goes home empty-handed, but I would imagine it really sucks and when that kid grows up to be a parent, they want to shelter that kid from that disappointment. It’s easy to say competition is good when you’ve managed to win, but sometimes competition discourages people from even trying. If you’re always losing, you may start to feel like you’re always going to be a loser and just stop showing up. It takes resilience and strength of character to be able to lift yourself up when you’ve fallen down and I think that resilience comes from knowing that the only thing that counts is your effort. That’s why kids need to learn to ask themselves “did I do my best?” I feel like a lot of my peers in college only ask, “Did I have fun?” and that’s not going to get you anywhere.

      • “If you’re always losing, you may start to feel like you’re always going to be a loser and just stop showing up” While I understand your argument, I feel it is equally wrong to give the impression that all of us can be equally good at doing everything. Using the soccer example that you previously used. I think it is equally important for a kid to realize that they are not talented in soccer, other than give them a false sense of satisfication that they can do it. If they realize they are not good, they will encourafe them to take up something else, perrhaps tennis and who knows thats where their talent might be. It is not just about the pain of failure, it is also about what you do after failure. We were all created with different talents, unfortunately some of us will never relaize our talents simply because we believe we can do everything that is out there. Realizing that you are not good at something is the first step towards something positive. Admitting failure is not a weakness, it is a sign of strength. And this is what the American system is missing.

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