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?