Lack of Competition or My Beef with “Here’s your Trophy, Thanks for Playing”

To start off, I’d like to say that some of you may be offended or wounded or saddened by what I’m about to say… too bad!  That’s part of the problem.  For too many generations now, we’ve spent too much time coddling our children, and our adults, spending too much time and energy trying to level the playing ground, giving rewards to everybody rather than to those who worked hard to earn recognition, and ultimately, we’ve dulled the edge of what used to be the sharpest, brightest country in the world.
Today, I attended Field Day at my daughters’ elementary school.  It was quite the misnomer as most of the activities were indoors, and none of the activities resembled anything you’d find at a Track & Field event.  The closest thing was probably the foam noodle throw that might have almost sort of kind of vaguely resembled a javelin throw…maybe.  Not that Field Day should be synonymous with Track & Field, but I recall Field Day, when I was in elementary school, being a bunch of competitive events, such as 50-yard dash, 3-legged race, potato sack race, wheelbarrow race, and tug-of-war.  There were winners and there were losers.  To have as many winners as possible, they gave out ribbons for the top six places in each event, but it was a beginning to learning about competition.  If you wanted the blue ribbon for first place, you had to run, hop, or tug faster or harder than your opponent(s).  It’s where we began to learn sportsmanship, both good and bad.
Competition also took place in the classroom.  We didn’t receive ribbons, just recognition, but we tried our best to score the highest on timed math tests, win class spelling bees, win at all the games in gym class, etc.  The rewards were things like getting to play “Oregon Trail” or “Hunt the Wumpus” on the Honeywell computer (no screen, all input and output echoed to a line printer), going on special field trips, and things like that.

In and out of the classroom, working hard to win meant something.  We weren’t so concerned with whether or not someone’s feelings got hurt because they lost.  It builds character and it’s an important thing for kids to learn.  You aren’t always going to win, but you can work at it and get better.
This is what we, as a country, used to teach our kids.  Now, we give trophies to every player on every team and we don’t keep score.  We don’t track wins and losses.  For the really young players, this makes sense.  They are just learning what it means to be on a team, what it means to play a sport, how to interact with other kids, and many probably can’t keep track of the score anyway, but once the kids get to 6 or 7, they are keeping track and they know who won the game.  They are keeping track of which teams they beat and whether they’ve gone undefeated all season.  Giving a trophy to everyone just for participating diminishes that accomplishment.  It says, “Why work at getting better?  You’re going to get the same reward whether you win all your games or lose them all.”
And that spills over into everything.
Why is America not leading the world in “test scores” and all those benchmarks we want to use to compare our education system to all the other countries?  Because we’ve tried our best to remove competition from kids at an early age.  We’ve become too concerned with feelings and inclusion and “no child left behind” and making sure everyone is the same …and we’re training generations of kids to be average.
Don’t get me wrong… I’m all for helping those who are a little slower than average or have learning disabilities or are at a disability due to physical circumstances, and I think we’ve made/are making strides in helping those kids (and adults), but our ability to recognize those who are advanced and those who are willing to work hard to perform as well as those to whom it comes naturally sucks.  It does.  As a system, we are far worse at sharpening the minds of those who are ready to leap ahead of their peers, and I don’t just mean by advancing them a grade.  I’m talking about challenging and stimulating them, but all this is really heading off on a tangent.
Boiled down, my point is this:  It’s all well and good to be concerned with our children’s feelings, but we can’t be so concerned that we continue this trend of training their natural competitive nature out of them.
Now, if I’ve hurt your feelings or you disagree with what I’ve said, by all means, post a comment.  I like spirited, intelligent debate.  Note, however, that if all you do is make personal attacks on me or anyone else commenting, or lace your response with profanity, I will not approve your comment.

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