This weeks topic came about after some discussions about participation trophies awarded to many teams in youth sports and my observations over the years coaching youth soccer, baseball, softball and a few relevant life experiences.
Most people that know me know I spent most of my first 10 years in Pueblo, Colorado.That's where I was first exposed to both competition and youth sports. My first memory of competing is from second grade. My friend Dave Perkins competed in everything. Literally everything, We'd take a quiz in school (Carlile Elementary) and our custom was to stand when finished. The first thing Dave and I did upon standing was to check if the other was already standing. Then we compared grades on the work, both seeking what passed for bragging rights to a second grader. We both liked the same girl - Susan Taylor and both lost that one as she moved to California. About the only thing we did not compete on was eating lunch, though if memory serves Dave was a Coke guy and I was an RC Cola guy.
Our competition lasted until I moved to California the summer between 4th and 5th grade. Dave was one of the last people I saw before leaving Pueblo. Truth be told, in all of our competition we split just about 50/50. Dave quarterbacked the local HS football team to a state championship - no surprise to me. But all of that competition created a bond of friendship between us that would have lasted had I not moved away. In sports we got to play on the same Old Timers baseball team and Bantam League football team.
In California I continued with youth sports - Little League baseball replaced Old Timers baseball in Colorado. My days were nearly identical to the summer days depicted in the excellent movie Sandlot. Not once were any participation awards passed out at the end of the year. If your team won the league championship you earned that recognition.
Fast forward a few years and Lynn and I coached my sister's softball team - 14-17 year old girls. No team I ever coached competed harder than Sheila's team and we did very well. We won our division and were rewarded with trophies for the recognition we had earned. There was a large pizza party for all. Another chance to hang out with their buddies on the other teams.
About that same time I got involved in youth soccer - no surprise there as both of my kids played in the league. Players were lumped into two basic categories - house and traveling. Other than tournaments, the house players all played within their league whereas the Traveling teams - the best players - played all around the area. They were as serious about soccer as humanly possible whereas House players generally were in it for fun, and there was an advanced house division to help develop players for the Traveling teams.
So what did the kids get from their participation in these teams? Starting as far back as my early participation I learned about competition, teamwork, winning and losing. I learned that it takes work and effort to develop the requisite skills to win. I learned there is a difference between winning and losing. I learned that winning is more fun than losing. And, I learned that as long as you gave your best effort, losing is not a crime. Nor is winning. If you lose you try to correct the mistakes that led to the loss and if you win, keep honing your skills. Be flexible.
These are all valuable life skills that apply daily. The world is growing more and more competitive. Kids must learn life skills at an early age and continue to hone those skills as long as they are part of the workforce. Be flexible. The days of working for a single company for your entire life have come a halt. Things are changing and developing at an incredible pace and will likely require a degree of teamwork and creative thinking unlike ever before.
Does exposure to competition assure success in this highly competitive world? Absolutely not. But it will create better prepared people to face the typical daily insanity we encounter.
Be sure to visit Ramana's Musings to see what he has to say about this topic.