We’re Not All Winners

This was part of my Jack’s speech contest speech from last year. It discusses how competition benefits our country’s youth and helps them become better equipped for their futures.

By Jack Ramsayer:

Participation medals? Ha! More like Subpar-ticipation medals. We all are growing up in an era that recognizes and values the kid who loses the race. Nowadays, all a kid has to do is show up to get a medal. By doing this, we are undermining the whole American spirit of competition. I guess there was a time long ago when there was actually a sense of drive and determination in our children. You know, how kids used to actually have talent in order to win a prize… now wouldn’t you like to have that back.

If I were to ask the average person who Usain Bolt is, the odds that someone would know him are pretty high, which is practical. You know why? Because he’s a winner! He isn’t called the Lightening Bolt because he comes in 2nd or 3rd each race. This man has won 8 gold medals in his Olympic career, winning numerous Golds every Olympic year since back in ‘08. He holds world records in both the 100 and 200-meter races. Now if I were to ask a group of people if they knew who Kirani James or even American-born Olympian LaShawn Merritt is, there is a high chance that very few to none of them would. I hadn’t either until I googled “Olympians who ran against Usain Bolt” because I couldn’t even think of one of the guys he beats each year. Now why is it that we as Americans decide to root for the Jamaican runner over one of our own American athletes? Because the world likes winners; nobody remembers second place…

Now many people might ask what separates a kid that actually deserves an award from one that doesn’t. To answer this, let me use a prior experience as a key example. Earlier this year I was part of my Water Polo Eastern Prep Championship team. Our team won a nail-biter in the final seconds of the championship match to win the tournament for our school. However, I would be lying if I said that I had actually played a major part in that win. Honestly, all I had done was throw the ball in from out-of-bounds and offer the starting seniors my seat on the bench or some water for the next time they were going in. Now should I myself be allowed to write Water Polo Champion on my college resume or have my name be engraved on the team’s plaque? Your damn right I shouldn’t! The kid who sits at the end of the bench all game should not get a ring. If he wanted one, he should have worked twice as hard and practiced twice as much as the other kids who actually earned that starting position. This evolved notion that everyone’s a winner needs to change. It is undermining the exact ideals that this great nation was built on: Freedom and Competition.

The primary result of this failed self-esteem movement is that parents and coaches are feeling like they are obligated to heap praise for their children, no matter if they actually deserve it or not… whether they score that game-winning touchdown or fumble the ball in the final seconds that losses the game for their team.
Little Tommy here won’t be hurt if he doesn’t get a medal, and if he is, well then that will invoke a heightened incentive in him to want to win the next time around. It is simple, by only rewarding first place awards, we will be limiting the expected margin of error in our kids’ performances, leading to more time spent practicing and actually committed to the task at hand. Now if you don’t believe me, believe science… Robert Cloninger, a doctor at Washington University, told researchers that awarding trophies to all children could lead to negative biological impacts as well. The technical term is “Partial-Reinforcement Extinction Effect,” meaning that “if you constantly reward a kid, you spoil them, and you don’t build a capacity for them to be resilient to frustration.” In other words, protecting kids from the frustration of defeat would only blunt their competitive edge, never teaching them how to properly cope with the adversity of losing.

It’s kind of like money, by giving out too many trophies, it decreases the value of others. The kid who comes in first place should be frustrated that the boy you just double-lapped receives the same award as you, and that hard work that you had initially put in that he hadn’t doesn’t stand for much anymore.

Now of course parents want to believe that their children are all special, and granted that is true for few of them. But the fact of the matter is that if your child comes in dead last, he isn’t as “special” as you had hoped for. Mothers believe that by giving their children participation medals, it will make them feel as “included” and as “accomplished” as the other kids. “Besides they’re only kids,” a parent would say. On the contrary, the only thing that this way of thinking does is establish in kids the belief that it is ok to do the bare minimum to be recognized or rewarded in life, producing a self-obsessed and unmotivated group of false achievers… and that’s simply not how the world works or wants from our future generation. We are all going to experience this true sense of competition in the working world anyways – nobody is going to take it easy on you or slow down to let you catch up – so why don’t we establish these methods of thinking now so that our children will be better equipped and prepared for the road that lies ahead.

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