Old-fashioned Winners and Losers

This past Thursday my family and I participated in downtown Miamisburg’s Annual Turkey Trot race down in Ohio. My husband, Eric, and I had planned to run it, while our kids walked with my parents. I injured my ankle last month and wasn’t able to train as I had hoped so we decided that our five-year-old could run with us since we were just competing for fun. (Which my husband claimed was ridiculous. His exact words were, “Who does this for fun? It’s a five mile course on Thanksgiving morning and it’s FREEZING OUT HERE!”) Anyway, we said that we would run as much as we could and walk when Ayrton needed a break.

Meghan and her family: freezing, but having fun

Meghan and her family:
freezing, but having fun

The participants were split into three groups: serious runners first, those who hoped to run the entire race, and then walkers. We entered under the walkers category because we assumed we would be walking most of the race. Our group started about five minutes after the first group of runners took off. As we were starting, Ayrton said, “I hope we win. I really want a trophy.” Eric and I just looked at each other in shock. He had obviously seen how many people started in front of us and while we appreciated his self-confidence, it was a little alarming that he’s already conditioned to expect a trophy just for participating. He’s a very bright kid, so I knew we had to clear up this issue before we got too far into the race. I kindly explained that no, we would not be winning this race, therefore we didn’t deserve a trophy. I then explained that we didn’t deserve to win this race because we didn’t practice or prepare for it, like the winners did. However, it would be our own personal victory to simply complete the course and next year we would train and see if we could win. He was completely satisfied with this answer. He did make another comment or two the remainder of the race about getting a trophy, but Eric reminded him that a trophy ┬ámeans nothing if you didn’t win.

Call us old-fashioned but we truly believe that there should be clear winners and losers in competitions, even for children, and there definitely shouldn’t be participation trophies. It takes away from the fact that participating is the reward. Being part of a team is a special, wonderful thing that some children don’t experience due to lack of funds or physical/mental disabilities. It also discounts the effort that the winners put into training for the event.

Losing gracefully takes practice and when we don’t allow our children the opportunity to lose then they never practice trying again or trying harder. They don’t learn to shake their opponents hand and say, “Great job.” And like everything else, children learn best by repetition, and when they all receive a reward at the end of the day then not only do we teach them that mediocre effort is acceptable, we rob them of life lessons that they will carry with them.

As a preschooler, I did gymnastics. It’s laughable because I have terrible balance and flexibility. The last year I competed they had a huge center-wide competition. I believe I placed 8th in my best event. I was six-years-old and remember staring at my 8th place ribbon and thinking, “I stink at this.” I told my mom I didn’t want to do it anymore and she said that was fine. Even as a six-year-old, I had the opportunity to evaluate how to best spend my time and I came to the conclusion that it certainly wasn’t gymnastics! Had I been given a participation trophy then my self-confidence would have been inflated and I probably would have continued to waste my parent’s money participating in something I wasn’t cut out to do.

Wilma Rudolph was a two-time Olympian

Wilma Rudolph was a two-time Olympian
in track and field

Olympic champion, Wilma Rudolph, said this about winning and losing, “Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.” Do you see how we’re robbing our children? We are teaching them absolutely nothing by handing out participation trophies.

Your child won’t suffer from lack of self-confidence just because they lose. Children suffer from low self-confidence because they feel that they lack purpose. Give your child plenty of opportunities to succeed in a variety of activities so they feel good about themselves and learn what they are good at and not so good at. Childhood shouldn’t be strictly about being successful at organized sports. There are so many lessons to be learned during childhood and shielding your child from losing is taking away a big one.

About Meghan Zeile

Mom-in-the-know and local writer for Rochester Media. Always looking for tips with kids, family life, and fun local adventures. Contact at Meghan@rochestermedia.com

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