Sports done right: Winning and losing
"There is a loftier ambition than merely to stand high in the world. It is to stoop down and lift mankind a little higher" — Henry van Dyke, poet (1852-1933).
Last week I wrote about the economic value of sports and had mixed reaction. In fairness, I want sports to stay in the mix, just not at the expense of math, English, history, geography, science and the arts. It must be blended into the total mix. I believe the biggest challenge is for our schools to make their sports programs more all-inclusive. Why should it be for just the talented athletes when we all pay for it? Intramural sports might be more helpful in the utilitarian view. At any cost, and at all levels, we should hold our students accountable and consider character and integrity FIRST. Without that, all that sports have to offer is diminished.
Sports done right
Matt Labrum, a high school football coach in Utah, received some national attention recently when he suspended his whole team because his players were skipping classes, getting poor marks and allegedly cyber-bullying a student.
The coach apparently had enough and drew a line in the sand. He said his most important job was to build character and it was evident to him that wasn’t happening with this team. So, after a Friday game, he sat his players down and told them to turn in their jerseys and football equipment.
The coach read from a prepared statement; "Gentleman, we are not pleased with how our football brothers are representing our family, school ... and yourselves."
He then added, "It is a privilege to play this wonderful game!"
Coach Labrum then gave them a list of what they needed to do to get their jerseys back. It included attendance requirements, being on time, no discipline issues. Most of his list was directed around respect for oneself and for each other.
Football players would also need to complete a community service project and memorize a quote about good character.
Instead of practice the following week, the players, with support from the school and their parents, went to a senior center and played games and visited with those living at the facility. One of the regular practices was replaced with a study hall where the players got the news that many had earned back their jerseys. New team leaders were voted in and a new way of thinking brought to light.
This coach is being recognized for doing something special. I bet he’d agree with me that being respectful and keeping the weight of your foot in character and integrity should be a necessity, rather than something outside the norm.
Losing is good for you
Ashley Merryman wrote an article in The New York Times in late September with this headline. I have always wondered what the research said about all the participation awards our children receive throughout their K-12 careers and Merryman does a good job laying out a part of the story.
Her opening question for parents to ask is, “Which kids get awards?” If the answer is “Everybody gets a trophy,” find another program.
I’m not sure that I buy in completely with that premise but I do agree with the overall concept that participation awards do not inspire children and can cause them to underachieve.
The article shares that positive reinforcement to children of their abilities is important for self-confidence but they then often can’t handle failure of any kind and get so demoralized they would rather cheat than risk failing again.
Children aren’t fooled by getting trophies for just showing up. Before they get into grammar school they already know they aren’t being recognized for any level of accomplishment and sometimes feel cheated because of that. Some, the article says, even give up trying to excel.
Rather, children who are left alone to draw pictures do better compared with those hearing constant praise at how good they are because the study showed those children were more concerned about making mistakes in their pictures, rather than just drawing.
I agree that if children know the parameters of an award, and win it on merit, they are better served than when everyone is treated the same.
However, not all parents agree and the story talks about an irate parent who complained that her child looked forward to the trophy as much as playing the games.
This fits into the common narrative of the “helicopter parent” who will try and steer every aspect of their child’s life in fear they can’t handle rejection or failure. Filling their rooms with trophies and awards, and their minds with the notion that you just have to show up to be a winner may not serve them.
The problem is this doesn’t translate well in the bigger picture. As they enter college and their first jobs, they believe that you get rewards no matter how hard you work and that you deserve a promotion based on just coming into work every day.
Parents need to help their children and give them the kind of self-esteem that allows them to know they can do anything they set their mind to. Taking away fear of failure is important and understanding that it is not in their child’s best interest if they spin every set back, or help them through every problem, without allowing them to experience any hurt.
I always loved the butterfly story. A butterfly will die if in its struggle to get out of the cocoon, you help them. Getting out of the cocoon is what strengthens their wings so that once they break out of the cocoon, they can fly away. When we help them too soon or too much, they don’t get the strength in their wings they need to fly off, so they perish. The same is true of our children. When we don’t hold them accountable for their mistakes or failures, they will not be equipped to take on real world problems.
Our jobs as parents and mentors are to hold our friends and children accountable and to expect their best. Nothing more, nothing less. When they fail, our role might be to help them see what they’ve learned and perhaps how they’ve grown since their last set back.
Most of all, we need to not tell them (lie to them) what a great job they did when they draw an average (or less than average) picture, or fail at something because they can see through that by the time they are about 3 or 4 years old. Most often, others are best served when we let them know what we honestly think, while encouraging them to keep trying — that is where the real rewards come from.
Working hard and measuring success is the true trophy we should all be looking for.
Reade Brower can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.