Friday, May 19, 2006


Participants Never Quit

Yeah, that sounds like the title of all of that weird spam you've got filling up your mailbox, doesn't it?

You're welcome.

Lotta folks are going to disagree with me on this one. Comment all you want, but no hatemail, please (I'll publish it).

Today was Sports Day at my daughter's school. Apart from the fact that the main event seemed to be Sarcastic Disapproval of Parental Units (holy fuck do I loathe her teacher) it was a pretty good day.

But something I noted was that even if someone won a race or an event, they got a ribbon that said "participant", and so did everyone else in the race. There seemed to be no first or second place ribbons (unless some of the other kids got them and I missed noticing it). Now, while I'm all for warm and fuzzy and let's work together as a community and eat granola and such, I'm a little concerned by this apparent trend to spare the fragile prepubescent ego by identifying all as "participants" and none as "winners".

Few are more bloodthirsty than a flock of schoolchildren. They've tried fucking hard and they WANT to win that race! And the ones who don't win need to learn that they didn't win, and that although there are things during life that they WILL win, there are also things that they will not.

I don't feel that there's any shame in losing, if one has tried. I think that's the spirit behind the "everyone's a participant pass the organic yogurt" trend, but just because you participated and tried, does not mean that you won. And if you won, I don't feel that that "win" should be diluted. If you won, you should get the ribbon, the balloon, ride at the head of the parade, get to boff the cheerleaders (although there was notably little cheerleader-boffing today, which I was pleased to see), whatever.

Life, like it or not, is competitive. How do you think all of the Olympic athletes would feel at the end of the race if someone said "Well, dude, you may or may not have broken a world record, but we decided not to time stuff this year. It's bad for, like, bonding and shit. Here, no medals, but everyone gets a cookie on a string. Let's all go sing Kumbaya instead of your national anthem."

We aren't all marching to glory, shoulder to shoulder. There are leaders and there are followers. There are winners and there are losers. To artificially place everyone at the same level is, in my not so humble opinion, likely to create a society in which leaders are a rarity, if not an extinct species.

And dude, without leaders we're all just going to run in circles and end up with our heads stuck up our own asses.

Athletically speaking, I suck. The only time I ever even came third in a race was the one time that there were only three teams in the three-legged race at school. And we only got third 'cause they had to give it to someone and were forced to overlook the half-hour finishing time and the wandering off to pick flowers instead of run thingie that went on for a while there. I'm not so good with the "focus on the finish line" deal, it would seem.

The win meant nothing to me, seeing it was a win by default. But any time I've really really wanted something, and have really really tried and have by-gum won I've been proud of it.

The lead in the Grade 12 play? I got that role because I won it. Because I was the best out of all of the girls who auditioned. I worked damned hard to get it and I worked damned hard AFTER I got it, because it was something I valued, and I had won. (Amanda Wingfield, The Glass Menagerie, in case you're wondering.)

Lose? I've lost lots of things, and if it was something I had tried really hard for and didn't get, after I got over the wishing-the-winner-dead deal and the embarrassment, I have tried to learn from the person who DID win, so that I had a chance to be that person the next time.

I hate the thought that by making everyone "equal" we are depriving our children of a reason to try to excel. They are equal in value as human beings (apart from that nasty little boy who punched my husband in the nuts, who is a step or two lower on the ladder. No, really.) which I think might have been the point, but the results of their efforts are not all equal, no matter how some would like to sugar-coat the reality.

I believe that children want to excel, and want to be special and "the best" at something. If a child never has a chance to discover that there is something at which she does not excel, will she ever be motivated to find that at which she does?

As a parent, I find that frightening. I see my role in this instance as helping her to find that area of excellence and nurturing her to follow it. And to refuse to be "equal".

This whole rant, of course, could easily be explained at my bitterness at not even getting a "participant" ribbon in the adult hula hoop event, even though all of the other parents did, but believe me, I'm all over that now. No, really. I'm just fine.

I'll be sulking in the roving cupboard if anyone wants me.

Send ribbons.

You are sooooo right! Especially about depriving children of a reason to excel. And also about children being competitive. All the crap about everyone being equal and not wanting to upset anyone's ego is totally ridiculous!

Thank you ever so much for this post!!!!
You are so right, this is what I think too!
I am glad to see I am not alone on this thanks again!
love and hugs
(knitchick.melly at gmail dot com)
Well I am glad that I am not the only person who thinks this way! I am always frustrated by those (my sister included!) who want to give prizes to EVERYONE for participating in an event or game. Yeah sure, the kids may feel some self-worth, but then they start feeling ENTITLED to whatever they want. No wonder there are teenagers and young adults who have no regard or respect for other people and objects! Great speech, and scream it out more, why don' cha? ;)

Hear, Hear (holding up a mug of coffee). Mostly a lurker here, but I gotta say something here. This trend bugs me too. And don't think it doesn't bug kids or that they don't keep track regardless of whether we give them a ribbon. Why not give a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and then a bunch of participants? Kids like mementos -- they'll like their ribbon more if it, in concert with the others, has some meaning. Fair is that each gets what he needs or has earned, not that everyone gets the same....sheesh!
What age kids are involved here? I am kid-less, but my nephew is actively involved in sports. In the lower levels of T-ball and baseball, everybody gets to play, and while the games still have winners and losers, it's not emphasized so much. As he's gotten older, requirements have tightened up and there are more benefits for winning and doing well (e.g., getting the game ball.)

But this is just in organized kid baseball. I don't know if it's like that in regular school activities.

In competitive dog obedience, everyone who gets a qualifing score gets a ribbon, and the top 3 get *special* ribbons. Maybe they could do that!
oh you said it all very well. I have failed at a great many things and I think very rarely if ever cried over it. I went off to find the things I could win at :) and now I have a successful career because of that.
I agree. Kids aren't stupid and they know that "participant" means diddly squat.

On another, somewhat related rant, I don't think kids should be forced to participate in competitive events. I suck at sports, always have. "Sports Day" was hell for me. All that humiliation! I think gym teachers can find some non-competitive ways to encourage physical fitness in the less athletic students.

If they are going to have competitions, why always limit it to sports activities? If a kid has to be involved in competitive activities shouldn't they be allowed to choose something they enjoy and feel they could do well in? I could have really kicked some ass if they had had knitting competitions in elementary school.
Well said.
Oh it makes me so happy to have read your post and all the commenters who agree. Why should'nt we be proud and rewarded cause we were the best.
I agree completely, and that's as someone who was so far behind in the 80m sprint (age 9) that the teacher on the mike asked for a second round of aplause for me. Fortunately my school also did a public general knowledge quiz, which allowed my tender ego (hah!) to recover fully...

And where did they get off not giving you a participant ribbon?!
If I wanted my children to learn a life of warm fuzzies, I'd send them to a commune...
My children need to learn that they will encounter competition every day of their lives and how to handle it (correctly) when they don't win and things don't go their way...and it is our job as parents to teach them this...Thank you...
As is usually the case when experts and psychobabblists get involved, the basic concept behind all winners at this age has been totally screwed up. What i learned when I taught K-1st graders is that this is the age in which bullies are made. Unfortunately, giving everyone a ribbon will not fix that fact that snivelling little child 1 never has anything for snack time and upon calling his mother when it is discovered he is running a fever, she groans 'whatever' and hangs up. Teachers try to compensate and bridge a gap because it is so very easy to distinguish between the haves and have nots as well as the athletic haves and have nots. Reason apparently abandons them and they begin to blanket remedy every uncomfortable scenerio by rewarding all thereby dilluting the reward and still creating bullies. What a bunch of knuckleheads.
It's interesting to me that everyone who commented said, "DAMN STRAIGHT" or some variation (I happen to agree) and yet, they're still doing it. Who are these fuzzy, hug-everybody people and why in the name of all that's holy do they have control over our children?
How do you learn to be a gracious loser (or a gracious winner for that matter) if there are no winners and losers?
To further what Janice said, just because your team lost doesn't mean you should be denied the pizza party. There is honor in working your hardest and not making it, and having no distinction blurs that.
Oh, and Farm-witch? What you mentioned is the reason that, occasionally, I really think it would be a good idea to require procreation licenses. "Lazy about birth control" should not be the biggest qualifying factor in parenthood. IMHO.
Well said dear.
Sounds a lot like "Harrison Bergeron" (Vonnegut) to me. And we all know how well *that* turned out.
Funny how times change. School sports, at least in the US, used to be so much about aggrandizing the kids who were naturally the best athletes anyway that the rest of the group ended up with a bad self-image and no interest in personal fitness (why bother, you can't do anything anyway). Having things swing so far the other way has lots of other disadvantages, though, as you very eloquently said. There has to be some sort of middle ground, where children can be encouraged to participate, but that those who strive and win can be rewarded, too, as Janice and Pacalaga also said.
I don't know what spam you're getting, but mine promises me that Bro, I'll be bigger than all my male friends.

That is one contest for which I DON'T want a ribbon, thanks ;-)
When Nancie was in Elementary school, they were divided into Houses, and then each house got points for 1st, 2nd, 3rd in the races.

At the end the House with the most points got the lst place ribbon, then 2nd, etc.
Wordy McWord
true confession: it was the mortification of my childhood that I could not hoola hoop. I still can't. Which is actually quite strange considering these hips I've got - they're practically a ledge ferchristssakes.
I agree with you on competition. It should be handled with grace, enjoyment and pride in accomplishment. The ribbons that I won as a kid were mostly from showing my horse. Most of our ribbons came from speed events. For some reason, I kept them all these years. That being said, is there a particular color you would like? I can let them go now.
(stands up and applauds)
I hate the teacher already.

I agree with Marlene: why Sports Day? Losing on Sports Day would be bad enough (and I would, I assure you), but getting a PARTICIPANT ribbon would just put insult on injury.
The bane of my elementary school (and junior high) existence was competitive sport. What was the point? If they'd only told me I'd be pear-shaped at 50, I might have tried. That wasn't the point then, though.

BTW. Great idea. I'm going to title all my posts after the latest spam I've received.

And now that you have the space, just how spacious is the roving cupboard?
Isn't this the theme of The Incredibles? "When EVERYONE is special, then no-one is." Speaking as someone who grew to be five foot and a fag-end high, and was always the tiniest in the class and the last in any race on Sports Day.... you just have to learn sometime that there are things you'll never be good at, for physical reasons.
We all must learn to deal with it our own way.
I knew I couldn't win, and as I spent a lot of time pretending to be a horse anyway, I simply cantered (in a very collected way and doing flying changes occasionally) around the track and ignored the anguished screams of team-mates.
Didn't upset me none.
I couldn't agree more. There is feel good and then there is this whole setting up of the next generation who have no grasp of anything competitive. There should be no medals for simply competiting. It isn't all about "feeling good" at the end. I'm seriously concerned about the message this is sending. Not to mention that it leaves kids completely uneducated in the true ways of the world. Thank you for this post.
I sorta agree and sorta disagree. Depends on the event and the age of the kids. In my 4-year-old's soccer league, they only kinda keep track of who wins and loses, as at this stage it's more about learning the basic skills and how to work as a team. It's pretty common for a kid to score a goal for the other team, as they're still a bit shaky on direction. As they get older and advance into higher levels, it becomes more about competition. I have to say I like this approach.

On the other hand, a basic race is pretty darn easy for a kid to understand--you don't have to change direction, you don't have to remember who's on your team and who isn't, it's pretty obvious who won. I think it's fine to reward all the kids who make the effort to participate, but I do think ribbons saying "first place", "second place" would be entirely appropriate and give satisfaction to the ones who won. And, too, if they're a bit older, (say 6 or over), they should be learning how to handle competition.
First, I agree with those who said that the kids know the difference. They do. And the research proves it (they did a study to find out whether kids who constantly had their egos pumped for doing nothing actually had better self-esteem. They didn't. But they did gain in self esteem when they accomplished something and were recognized and rewarded for it.)

That being said, I see nothing wrong with recognizing the kids who simply participated in the race. Life is competitive. But of course you will never win the race (actual or metaphorical) if you never get up off the couch and actually run the race.
You know what really fucking pisses me off? Teeball.

That is the most pointless sport ever. It's hella fun to watch, but they don't keep score, there's no "outs" and basically the kids are running crazy everywhere.


PS - I got the "2nd place" role in my 12th grade play, and you can better believe that I camped that up until nobody knew the "lead" girl was even there.

I'm mean and nasty like that.

PS - need you to email me. Want to come visit, but not sure I can come the 24th.
Personally, I hated school sport with an absolute passion.

Now I'm over 30 and overweight, I've taken up jogging. I never learnt to run as a young person, you see. I thought it was all about going flat out, and dying after about 50m.

In my last 8km race, I came 1005 out of 1011. I am never going to win one of those suckers. I'm built totally wrong. But, screw it, someone needed to come 1005th and it was me.

But no bugger gave me a ribbon for doing it. Doing it was the reward. Yeah, I lose at running. I rock at knitting. But if sitting on the couch drinking wine would make me thin and healthy, I think it would have done it already.
I know I'm late posting this, but when I got to catch up on my blog reading, I had to comment!!

Not just in Canada, but in the US, too, we are creating a generation of un-motivated children! Where is the motivation to excel, when excellence is just another spot on the stage with everyone else? I went to my daughter's award presentation last evening. ALMOST EVERYONE IN HER CLASS GOT SOME SORT OF AWARD!!! UNBELIEVABLE! Next, they'll be passing out awards for "D" honor roll! There were about 5 or 6 hundred people for a ceremony that wasn't at all a ceremony, but a cattle call so every child could walk across a stage and get a piece of paper!
The best quote I can think of is from the "Incredibles"..."if everyone is super, then no one is!"
Late on the bandwagon, as usual. But I wanted to say that I totally agree with you. And I even eat organic yogurt and shit. ~bonnie
To win is no to lead. And leaders are not "winners".

What do leaders "win"?

We all have our own area in which we excel. That does not mean that everyone else in one's field is a loser. The point of rewarding participation is to recognize the effort of doing the best of one's abilities.

If one person wins, it implies that everyone else is a loser. That kind of humiliation can inhibit for the rest of one's life, when we all have something to contribute.

I teach art. Many people tell me they can't draw a straight line. How sad that their lives are deprived of something so satisfying. They were the losers in the straight-line drawing contest.

The point of art is the best self-expression one can offer. This will be different from anyone else. But it will be as good as I can make it. Competition with self is not degrading as when one is compared with someone else.

Why can't you run like Johnny? Or draw a straight line like Johnny?

Winning a race does not a leader make.

We put too much emphasis on one person winning. As if one person can solve our problems. No one succeeds alone. We can all work together to be the best person we can be to contribute the best we have in us to all.

That's the point of recognizing all who participate to the best of their ablilities.

Hope I'm not too late to comment...
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