Recently I read an article in the Washington Post entitled “Everyone’s a Winner Sends the Wrong Message to Kids.” The author told the following story. She and her husband happened to be at a swimming pool where the beginning of a kid’s triathlon was being held.
“And then we heard it, the ridiculous line and lie that has become commonplace in the arena of childhood competition: ‘Everyone is a winner just for showing up.’ We laughed out loud, shaking our heads.” She went on to explain to her 7-year-old, “Not everyone is a winner just for showing up. The winner, in this case, is the person who swims, rides and runs the fastest. The winner is the kid who crosses the finish line first.” I can’t argue with that.
On the other hand, the backlash against giving kids participation medals has gone a little too far in my opinion. James Harrison, a very good linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers—my hometown and favorite football team—made his two sons return participation trophies they received. He said, “Sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you want to do better.” I agree with this, too.
Participation Should Be Recognized
But I think it’s important to reinforce kids for trying. Recognizing them for participating, for playing the game, or entering the race is important, too. The author of the Post’s article says, “Pride does not come from just showing up.” Here’s where I disagree. I think that we all should be proud of ourselves for showing up and trying—even if we don’t win.
I don’t know what form recognition for showing up and trying should take in kids’ sports—a participant medal, a trophy—and I don’t want to get into that debate. But I do think that it is important to reinforce kids for trying. And, as James Harrison points out, help them to use their experience—win or lose—to get better.
This holds true at work, too. You don’t always win. You don’t always get the job or the promotion. You don’t always take the market share you aimed for. But if you can honestly say that you did your best, that you competed well and fairly, and that you learned something from the process, I believe you are a winner. Because that’s what winners do. They do their very best and they learn from their experiences.
Teddy Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech nailed it for me:
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds…”
I think we should celebrate all those who are in the arena—those who show up and do their best, even if their best isn’t good enough. If you do your best to succeed and learn something from your failures, you’re a winner in my book.