Teaching Our Kids to be Winners Instead of Wieners

On any given Saturday in autumn, and the six days leading up to it, wagerers across the nation are consumed with the task of picking the spreads on college games. Ditto for Sunday NFL games. The odds change from moment to moment on the Internet. Everybody is alert. Everybody wants the scoop on which teams will be the winners. It’s a lot of fun.

No one is interested in losers, though. You won’t see any losers on the cover of Inc., a leading entrepreneur’s business magazine. Or on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Competition is everywhere: horse races (everybody loves a good horse race). The Firecracker Four-Hundred. The World Series. The local T-Ball tallies. Who will win?

Actually, that last one doesn’t count. Helicopter moms are so terrified of their sons and daughters being pegged as losers that they arbitrarily disallow anyone to be a winner. Thus every kid on the team gets a trophy regardless of the outcome of a game or a season. I recall when my son was about ten years of age and playing on one of the local baseball teams. One Sunday afternoon in late summer the organizers were having the league’s end-of-season awards ceremony right after the conclusion of the last game. As Jay and I walked from the field I asked him if he was going to go get his trophy. His response: “Nah, everybody gets one of those.”

Winning is important in life. And by no means is it limited to sporting events. It is, in fact, the goal of every aspiration and desire—winning. Accomplishing one’s objectives. Meeting one’s personal goals or a team’s goals. Or a nation’s goals. High fives all around.

Skill in managing both one’s winnings and losings is essential to a bountiful and happy adult life: Get through high school without getting pregnant; get into a college or a trade school; graduate from a college or a trade school; convince someone to hire you; win a mate and start a family; stay married; have another baby; stayed married; save for retirement. These are all goals. And to be accomplished, they all require training and expertise in the art of winning, and losing, the skill of which must be learned at an early age.

And losing isn’t all bad by any means. It helps us identify our limits—we aren’t all meant to be excellent basketball players or accountants or welders. Losing can also be a powerful incentive to do better next time (no one likes the taste of losing). Losing once in a while teaches us empathy for those less fortunate (or less skilled in winning). And the pain of losing heightens the joy of winning simply by contrast—one has to experience losing from time to time in order to properly appreciate winning. And winning after a horrific loss can sometimes be downright courageous.

So, when parents don’t let their kids learn how to win by genuinely experiencing the occasional agony of defeat, they do their youngsters a major disservice.

The world is not fair. Kids need to know how to operate successfully in an unfair world. And simply tacking on the assumption of winning by fiat with an unearned trophy is not really winning. It merely gives the appearance of winning (or better, “not losing”). Another example might be, perhaps, one’s schoolmate being chosen as “most likely to succeed” in his senior year in high school. He’s never actually been successful at anything in his life without help. But no one seemed to have noticed (except him, maybe). He had great hair. He was every girl’s dream date. He got excellent grades in high school because his teachers liked him and his mom did his homework for him. He won his athletic varsity letter because dad had pull with the coach. In college he bought term papers off the Internet. Then, at the class’s twenty-year high school reunion, we learn that he was eventually arrested on a white collar felony charge and spent four years in state prison. He didn’t know how to win without cheating. Now he’s a convenience store clerk. He wasn’t a winner. He was a wiener. Don’t let your kids grow up to be wieners because you never let them learn how to win and lose.

Red Bud City

Here’s a little musical ode to my idyllic hometown of Buchanan, Michigan, also known as Red Bud City. Hope you like it.

Clyde’s dale

I’ve always loved horses. Probably because, as I’ve noted in earlier essays, I was raised on a seemingly unending series of TV westerns during my childhood back in the 50’s (remember this? Cowboys and Cowgirls)…

One comment

    And let’s not forget that the word ‘competition’ comes from the Latin ‘competere’ which means ‘to seek together’. If there’s no ‘competition’ there’s no ‘resistance’ against which to ‘strive’ and improve your performance.

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