My two kids have dozens of medals and trophies and they have never won a championship of any kind. They have played soccer, basketball, volleyball, baseball and Taekwondo and have rarely ever played a game or competed in a match where the score was kept and a winner and a loser determined at the end.
By the time I was 13, I knew firsthand the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. I remember missing a jump shot in a 1st grade basketball game that would have won my team the game. That moment of failure did not scar me, instead it made me shoot hundreds of jump shots on a basketball rim that was nailed to a pine tree in my back yard. I wanted to get better, so the next time I was in the position to win or lose, I would hit the shot.
I understand the dark underbelly of competition and the ugliness it can unleash in parents and coaches. But I am afraid we are raising a generation of kids who are convinced by enormous evidence that winning and losing doesn’t matter, when in fact, it does. I believe our kids have very little motivation to get better, to practice, to overcome because everyone gets the same trophy – a fake trophy.
Meanwhile, we are left scratching our heads when the 20-somethings are still living in our basements with no plan to ever leave or achieve. I believe one of the big reasons our young men drift aimlessly through a decade of apathy is because they have not learned how to compete, the value of being challenged, and the lessons learned only through abject failure. The worst thing we can do for our children is to always make life easy for them.
Between 1940 and 1970, we sent people to space, invented computers, created suburbia and revolutionized automobile technology. The people of this age were a generation that had survived a world war, been challenged in combat, and had grandparents that had survived the Great Depression. Competition was a celebrated part of the culture. Heroes were honored and grace was given to the defeated. Losers learned tough lessons and winners had to practice harder to stay on top. It was an age of hard work, innovation, and persistence in the face of great challenges.
We can still recapture some of these values and we can start by not handing out any more fake trophies. We cannot allow our kids to quit a sport, a subject, or even a relationship just because it is too hard and they may fail. A handful of trophies earned is much better than the many given for just showing up.