Two-time Super Bowl champion with Pittsburgh Steelers takes a stand
Contests have been around for ages. Even if we don’t personally participate in any contest, we may watch our children participate, or watch our favorite sports teams compete. And regardless of those more personal contests, we may all fall under the spell — whether actively or passively, with interest or even something bordering on disgust — of the nation’s one ostensibly most challenging contest: the one that comes around every four years and yields up the next president of the United States of America.
But this is not about politics; it is not even about contests. It is about one’s participation in contests.
There was a little news clip on TV this morning about an NFL player (a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Pittsburgh Steelers) who returned his sons’ “participation trophies” because he felt that — if I understood his meaning correctly — when schools hand out such trophies, they are furthering a false premise and therefore not teaching the real value of participation in a contest or competition.
In James Harrison’s own words: “I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them
till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best… cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better… not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy.”
Unless children raised themselves, chances are that somewhere along the way some adult managed to instill the concept that doing your best is as good as — or the same as — winning, thereby deserving the same amount of “praise” and/or recognition. While “doing your best” seems to be a good thing to do (as opposed to not really trying or just making a wishy-washy, not really concerted or focused effort), and
everyone is encouraged to just “do your best,” it ought to be quite obvious that even when everyone does his or her best, one may still rise just a little higher and come in first or gain the most points or reach the goal before all the others. That would be the person or team that gets the trophy, if indeed trophies are given for that event.
While participants are to be commended for taking the risk to jump in and participate, everyone knows going in that there can be only one winner since that is the nature of competition. If their spirits are too delicate to bear losing (all but one WILL lose — that is a given), perhaps they should be encouraged to only participate in games for the joy of playing, not winning. Chances are all participants are entering to win, so all must understand that most participants in any competition must learn how to accept losing. To lose this lesson by
giving the non-winners something very comparable to what the winner receives is watering down that teaching moment.
We all know that out of any group of children within a certain category (-ol4th-graders, 10-yeards, those of similar heights and weights, or some such other designation) some will naturally be stronger or smarter than the others, while some will have surpassed others through effort and dedication. However, since one’s strength, intelligence, endurance and the like can be improved with effort and dedication, that allows one time to work on whatever it is that one wishes to improve. Working toward the goal of competition is therefore
a way to see if one has improved enough to surpass all the others who have been doing the same thing — striving to improve their own personal best.
Everyone cannot win or winning has no meaning. And all winners are not in the same category since some are just naturally stronger or smarter or faster than all the competitors who worked hard to compete against them.
For those who choose to compete, they must be taught that while there can be only one winner, not winning can spur them on to improve their competitive skills to try again — for their own satisfaction or even just for the sake of winning — or help them acknowledge that some other contender is better at winning that kind of particular contest.
If winning is everything to a child, be prepared for some after-action gloom if that does not come to be. Hopefully it will pass, as the child comes to understand the nature of participation in a competition. It might help a child to know that Abraham Lincoln participated in political campaigns (ran for office) at least five
times and lost four times. It was that last time he entered the competition for which he will always be remembered.
Lincoln did not whine. He kept entering competitions until he became president of the United States. Losing did not defeat Lincoln, nor should it require a trophy-for-the-trying to keep a child from feeling defeated.
Participation is its own reward. Let the child shine in his own light, and teach him to value the light of another.
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Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at email@example.com.