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Just a Guy Saying There Are Winners, Losers

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Our kids need to face reality.

sad boy with second place ribbon

Bruce Sallan: In our elementary schools and team sports for younger kids, there seems to be this foolish desire to make everyone a winner. They had assemblies at my kids' elementary schools, several times a year, in which eventually every kid won an achievement award. When I coached my young son's coach-pitch baseball league, I was told at the end of the season to get trophies for everyone, including myself. Instead of enhancing self-esteem, the truth is, this just diminishes any one child's actual accomplishments.

In real life, as we all know, there are winners and losers. Someone wins American Idol, the World Series, the NBA Finals, and there are three winners on the podium for every Olympics event. Kids should and need to learn to take their losses and earn and appreciate their wins.

My teen son competed in a local Battle of the Bands, which was open to all ages, so his brand new band (they've been together just a few months) competed against adult bands. My son had just taken up the drums and their band had yet to perform in public. The judges were music professionals. They were terrific. When it was announced that they won, they were ecstatic as the joy and reality of a true accomplishment showed on their glowing faces.

In contrast, I took my Little Brother (I'm a Big Brother) to a Dodgers game in which the home team was getting slaughtered 8-0 by the 4th inning. Not only did the whole stadium feel lousy, but my "little" was no longer interested and we left.

This is real life. There are winners and losers -- and the sooner our kids learn this, the better. But, what do I know? I'm just a guy.

next: Day Care Centers Turn on TV for Toddlers, Study Finds
15 comments so far | Post a comment now
Sara November 29, 2009, 5:27 AM

I think the true reason behind not keeping score is because of the parents and coaches. When you make a sport competitive the parents get competitive and the kids who aren’t as talented start getting sidelined and parents start acting badly on the sidelines.

That said, with sports there’s a need for both. The competitive for those who are athletic and the non-competitive for those who are participating because the need the exercise.

Denise November 29, 2009, 7:17 AM

It is a horrible lesson our kids are being taught in school. This whole self-esteem movement has the exact opposite effect of its intent! What self-esteem does anyone get when they know they really didn’t do anything to deserve the trophy or award? How did this start? Yipes, Bruce, first you’re talking about sex and making jokes and then you get serious. I think you’re hyper!? (Said with love and affection, of course)…

Lindy November 29, 2009, 8:45 AM

Bruce, I agree with you 100%. It was like that when my DD was in school back in the 90s. Kids don’t know how to accept dissapointment and loss because of this “everybody’s a winner” crap.

Beth November 29, 2009, 10:06 AM

I’m of the opinion that it depends on the age, honestly. For the four and five year olds, maybe even the six year olds, the effort to get out on the field and try should be enough. They are all trying to learn the skills, and we shouldn’t discourage them while they’re learning. Competition should be introduced before they’re much older than that, but when you watch a bunch of four year olds play soccer, I think the fact that they all manage to run in the same direction at the same time by the end of season deserves a trophy for everyone involved.

Scott November 29, 2009, 10:25 AM

Age comes into play in this debate. A 6 or 7-yr old doesn’t need the life skill of competition - they need to be encouraged to form interests and passion. As they get older focusing on winning and losing is a healthy life skill.

You said it yourself, your “little” got disinterested because they were losing. How is that a good lesson for a 7-yr old?

Suppose he was playing in a baseball game, began to lose and became disinterested in the sport altogether before he developed any real talent or critical skills. Is that really a better lesson than nurturing a healthy enjoyment of the skills necessary to become good at it, not to mention being part of a team, etc?

Sure older kids can afford to have their ego bruised. Later in life there will be plenty of time to be knocked down but first you need to learn to stand and then walk and then push.

I go to a lot of competitive sports and all of my kids have developed into pretty good athletes and seem to thrive in school. They lose and win and it doesn’t phase them now that they are hitting their teens but we started them on a solid platform of skills and hard work that made them competent and confident enough that losing wasn’t as important as working harder and learning from their losses.

Almost every young child I have seen being pushed by their parents to be competitive I have also seen give up and lose interest just like your little brother at the game.

There are plenty of people in the world that will try to beat down your child. I think the role of parent includes being their cheerleader and letting them know you support them win or lose. I tell them winning is great and losing can be instructive but only giving up (and some times losing interest) is failure.

I love the story of Colonel Sanders in his 80’s having over hundred stores turn him down before he finally had success that turned into a chicken empire. In life, losing isn’t great but it isn’t failure. Failure is being unwilling to pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes and try again.

Bruce Sallan November 29, 2009, 10:32 AM

I agree with all of you. It’s a grey area, especially when the kids are first learning (a sport). In school, I think it’s B.S. for every kid to get an achievement award regardless of the age. Scott - you are right on as are you, Beth and Lindy. In a blog, I tend to be big on issues as I don’t have the time to be subtle and work in the deeper levels of an issue. Very good comments and I thank you for them. Check out my regular column, “A Dad’s Point-of-View,” sometime for more developed issues as they’re much longer (find them by googling my name or column name or go to my web-site -

Rachel November 29, 2009, 11:55 AM

I agree with you, Bruce. I’m interested to know your thoughts on the “honor roll” in schools. I realize we’re now talking academia, and not sports, but there are many school districts who won’t publish the honor roll any longer because it causes too much stress and hurt feelings. Wow. What ever happened to working harder?

Bruce Sallan November 29, 2009, 12:04 PM

Rachel - The honor roll is just that, an “honor” and those students who EARN IT deserve the (public) recognition. This foolish notion that some kids will have hurt feelings is just that - FOOLISH. Like I’ve said before, what is going to happen to them when they get older and “real life” rewards and punishes those who succeed and fail? It’s this same sort of PC thinking that allowed that fanatical shrink to be let loose and murder over a dozen innocent soldiers and injure dozens more when the evidence of his beliefs were obvious as day. PC thinking is ultimately destructive.

Secret Mommy November 29, 2009, 12:25 PM

I’m so happy to see someone publish this opinion! My husband and I have been mortified to see what has come of children’s sports and other competitive events.

We both feel we learned a lot from competing as children and this notion of not keeping score or giving everyone a trophy is just so ridiculous it borders on the utterly absurd. As does the argument that removing the scoring keeps the parents in line! What? If we can’t expect adults to behave in front of their children and set good examples, what is the world coming to?

Jeff November 29, 2009, 1:02 PM

Okay, Bruce now you’re talkin’. Yesterday it was sex, a subject that does turn me on, but this one really rocks. As a former coach of one of my son’s teams, I hated all the nonsense that went with our team sports nowadays. The parents seem more interested, as has already been stated, in their egos being gratified than their kids having a good time. As I “Win” and “Lose” for a living, I think the sooner our kids learn life, the better. Okay, for the very little ones, let’s just “play,” but that doesn’t mean they need a “Most Improved” trophy or “Best Liked” one to feel good about themselves. How about just getting better?

Anonymous November 30, 2009, 6:08 AM

Bruce is 100% correct. We are doing our children a great disservice by teaching them they are all “winners” or as my friends and I like to refer to them “special little snowflakes”. Kids need to know there are winners and losers - sometimes they will win and sometimes they will lose. People might think its mean but I’ve never just allowed my kids to “win” even when they were very little, like 2 or 3. It doesn’t teach them to strive for anything if they are automatically given a prize.

philippe perebinossoff December 1, 2009, 12:32 PM

I’m not sure I agree with Bruce 100%. I remember when I was a kid and one of my little friends didn’t win anything and her father rushed out somewhere to buy her a prize that would be delivered “because a late tally showed that she had won afterall.” I remember thinking that what the father did was wrong, but now I might (just might) feel differently, particularly if the kid is very young. There are so many ways that kids are put down and made to feel that they are inferior that a little false boosting via trophies that aren’t earned might not be so terrible. Again, particularly if the kids are very young.

Michelle M. December 3, 2009, 10:57 AM

AMEN!!!!! I agree 100%!

David December 7, 2009, 7:57 PM

I agree with Bruce pretty much down the line on this. Achievement by merit builds self-esteem. Cosmetic achievement — e.g., everyone gets a trophy — acomplishes nothing that I can think of.

Carolina Cardin January 25, 2011, 10:01 PM

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