This past week, my son’s baseball team won the AAA Little League Championship! I asked my son how he felt about being a member of the #1 team in the league. He replied, “Happy.” But he did not seem filled with the pride and satisfaction that I expected. This was his first ever championship team.
I said, “The number one team, wow! But you don’t seem all that excited. ” He then said, “Well mom, what is the difference when you get a trophy every year whether you win or lose?”
Aha! The crux of the matter! What is the difference?
When I was a competitive gymnast growing up, prizes were awarded to the top three places. I took the podium often, experienced the pride and satisfaction associated with being the best gymnast that day. I wanted to be the best I could be, to take first place, even perhaps to be an Olympic gymnast like Nadia Comaneci.
But I also knew what it was like to drive home, empty handed, having done my best and knowing that it was not good enough to win a trophy or medal. Often, I’d replay what happened, the fall on the beam and remembering the practice sessions where I’d performed the trick correctly. It was as though I wanted to make it right in my head. During my subsequent workout sessions, I felt driven to work harder, focus fuller, absorb and apply the instruction from my coaches to my moves. I even practiced at home every chance I could. My failures, almost as much as my dreams, drove me to succeed.
Our society has set up our youth team sports to be fair and generate equality. The expressed purpose is to protect the children from hurt feelings. I look at this silly process and its results, and I have to ask:
Are you serious?
Culturally, who decided that it was the best idea to rob the children of the opportunity to become resilient? What would it be like NOT to argue for the limitations of what our children can handle, but rather allow them to have lots of experiences now while they are young and allow them to grow from their mistakes?
This week, I spoke with a tennis pro, a former pro baseball player and current coach, and a multiple black belt in several martial arts. All of these professional coaches confirmed that American youth were distinctly lacking integrity; follow through, sport specific education and resilience compared to their contemporaries in other countries. The adult world of competitive sports is actually competitive, and the youth of today do not hold the same value for winning that it had a generation or two ago. Our youth will be competing with their contemporaries not just in the USA, but the world—and guess which direction we’re headed?
Children need to learn to deal with hurt feelings when they are young and the price tag is small. This will allow the children to develop the coping mechanisms necessary to manage bigger challenges when they are older. Failure is one of life’s best teachers. The disappointment of not winning is one of the primary motivators to learn more skills, to work harder at sport success strategies and try to win next time. Wouldn’t our youth be better prepared to handle the challenges young adults face finding employment and forming their futures if they had practiced these skills while growing up in youth sports? In more areas than sports, our children will need to know how to handle the disappointment associated with losing.
A positive tool I have found to this end is the teachings of Love and Logic ®, a program started by psychologist Jim Fay, PhD. In the workshop we teach, we help parents learn to apply simple easy to use parenting tools that lowers stress for everyone in the family. Taking the time to learn parenting strategies that develop resilience and success for your children will help them develop into productive, healthy and successful adults. Parents learn to tolerate their children’s discomforts around loss, grief, hurt feelings for their long term benefit of building success strategies for their adulthood; and how to allow the children to experience the celebrations of self accomplishment
and pride associated with a job well done!
America, I beg you to raise your children to make lots of mistakes now while they are young. Let them learn to manage the negative emotions associated with failure disappointment. Love them, hug them, be sad along with them, but do not cushion their fall and do not rob them of the pride and satisfaction that comes from true accomplishment and success.
Gain some support and learn how at the Love & Logic workshop. One is beginning Thursday May 30th.