Many years ago, I coached the Agoura White Sox, a little league team of 10-11 year olds along with a close friend. We were in college, loved baseball fanatically, and we wanted to teach. Having both played ball in high school, we figured we could bring the kids on our team a different perspective than all the other baseball dads coaching their sons.
We worked on complicated drills and plays with this special group of kids, that were built on the assumption they had a good handle on the basics. After the first 4 games, we were wrong. We started 0-4, and the games weren’t even close. The kids and parents alike were questioning us, we were questioning ourselves, and ultimately we realized we needed to get back to basics. We practiced hard and won game 5, then game 6. The kids were having fun, playing as a team, playing hard, and playing to win.
In recent years, as I have gone to my nephew’s games and to those of my friends kids, I have been astonished at a trend in which there were no winners and losers. As long as the kids play hard and learn. Granted, these kids are a few years younger than our Pony team, but at least back then, every game counted. Not just in the standings for the local newspaper, but to each and every one of our kids. We taught them to lose with dignity and win with grace. We taught them to work hard with one another as a team, and individually. We taught them honesty and integrity meant something in a game, and in real life. They knew what it felt like to win, and they knew what they had to work on improving when they lost.
So what do the little league kids of today learn? Even in their early years, if they don’t learn about winning and losing, how can they take serious the games of life they will play when they are older? Aren’t they being taught that losing is no big deal? And if that is the lesson, then what happens when they get in to that real world, and have to support themselves and maybe a family? Will losing not matter than either?
In school we learn the skills and information needed to be successful in life and profession. But it is in our friendships, our families, our extracurricular activities, like little league baseball, that we learn so many of the values and lessons that will carry on throughout our lives. And now, in a position where I am responsible for hiring and firing people, I am seeing the results of the generation that thinks losing is no big deal. The picture I’m seeing is no Picasso.
Losing is a big deal. No matter the business, you have to strive to be number one as a company, a team. Individual effort is important, but if you’re say, a Project Manager on a software development project that is integral to your company’s success, is winning or losing important? You may work hard, but perhaps few or no one on your team does, and the project is riddled with problems, not to mention being late and over budget. Does winning or losing matter then? In today’s economy, company’s are struggling to stay afloat – does it matter to them if they win or lose? Go to the local unemployment office and ask anyone in line if it is important to win or lose.
Winning and losing alike are a part of life. It’s never too young to teach kids what it is all about. Let them taste the sweetness of victory, but also the bitterness of defeat. Should there not be winners in local spelling bees in school? Or writing contests? Science competitions?
I am not a parent, so perhaps it is not fair for me to judge, but our nation of parents has become so hung up on not upsetting their children or disappointing them, that we have begun playing games that don’t count and don’t mean anything. Doesn’t the very definition of game mean you have a winner and loser?
Our White Sox worked hard the rest of that season. Kids of 10 and 11 stepped outside of comfort zones, tried new things, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding. But together, we all decided winning was important and something to work hard for.
We finished the last 10 games of the season undefeated… sweet victory! We lost our first playoff game… bitter defeat. But all of our kids on that team we’re better off for the experience.
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