Golden Gift Of Losing

Win or LearnI’ve watched with intrigue as the Little League International stripped Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West Little League of the 2014 United States title for falsifying boundary districts and using ineligible players.

I’ve read myriad perspectives on this story including those that claim the decision to expose the “cheat” was racially motivated; or stemmed from jealousy.

Most fascinating were the thoughts that came from Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder and former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen, who offered that “youth baseball has become a rich kid’s sport, and though the Jackie Robinson West kids can no longer boast a championship, some of the adults that we argue took advantage of them actually provided them a too-rare opportunity to showcase their skills for a broader audience.”

In Minnesota, the class AAA high kick competition became controversial when competitors claimed the Faribault Emerald dance team allegedly copied a dance from an out-of-state team and should be disqualified. The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) investigated the allegations and allowed the dance. Faribault was awarded first place.

Coaches and athletes from five of the opposing dance teams protested the awards ceremony and instead stood, hand-in-hand, apart from the Emeralds dance team. They attributed their actions to ethical and moral codes and stood united in their victimhood to “do the right thing.”

In Wisconsin, an elementary school decided to turn “Olympic Day” into “Winner’s Day.” I’m told the decision was made to help raise the self-esteem of all students by making everybody a winner.

What I’ve noticed about all three stories is they share a pattern of delusional thinking that has led to dysfunctional behaviors and systems. The delusion is that life is fair; the dysfunction begins when we create and enforce structures that promulgate this delusion.

The root of the problem is clear. When we operate inside a delusion, reality becomes skewed and expectations flawed. We are operating from a principle that is not aligned with truth.

Kids understand that we are all different. They embrace this fact. They become confused when we are lumped together and told we are all the same. Spend any amount of time with children and you’ll realize they make no qualms about somebody’s differences. They’ll question why somebody needs a wheelchair or why Molly has two mommies; but their questions stem from curiosity, not judgment. When we arbitrarily remove the differences, we subconsciously communicate our fear around the differences. This teaches them to label, fear and judge differences and to value what their leader’s value. If being fast is valued; than being slow is bad. If winning is valued, then losing is bad. If being the same is valued, then being different is bad. This is not truth.

In the case of the little league manipulation, the offending leaders justified their behaviors because they convinced themselves that they provided a rare opportunity for their kids. Worse, they justified the lie by suggesting that those who called it out were racists. Not only did they cheat, but now they are being victimized. The underlying issue may be the system, but behaving like a victim will teach children to behave like victims; and cheating to win will teach them that winning is all that matters.

I can appreciate the point Andrew McCuthen was trying to make, but he plays major league baseball because he is incredibly talented and hard-working. I find it difficult to believe that the MLB is filled with athletes fortunate to have a privileged youth.

In Minnesota, the five teams who protested not only disrespected the governing body and their sport; but they chose to dishonor their opponents. They justified their victimhood in the name of “doing the right thing.”

In what world do we consider disrespect and dishonor doing the right thing?

When did the goal of youth competition become about winning rather than providing opportunities to cultivate character and develop leaders?

In schools across the country, our students are being taught that everybody wins. This might hold more water for me if distinctions were made about what it means to be a winner. Coming in last place is not awful until it is labeled as bad by the leaders. How does removing competition and honoring sameness teach us what winning behavior looks like? And let’s be honest, the kids know who is fast, strong, and smart so let’s give them some credit and speak our truth. Let’s remove the fear around losing and let kids learn to win and lose with grace. Instead of pretending everybody is the same, why not create an event or environment that celebrates differences and provides opportunities to see the value in all people? What if we provided the tools to deal with the reality that life is not fair? Operating from that truth may give kids the perspective to honor each other, instead of hating or fearing somebody for their privilege, skill, or difference.

The concept that life is fair is creating entitled victims. You can win without being a winner and lose without being a loser.

The distinction is clear. Winning and losing are adjectives: winners and losers are nouns. Somewhere along the way, we have collapsed them and blurred the lines between the act of winning and the behaviors attributed to winners. Bad behavior is bad behavior. Cheating, lying and disrespect are unbecoming behaviors never associated with winners – regardless of the outcome.

The sooner we embrace the reality that life is not fair and systems and structures are not perfect, the sooner we can stop hiding from our differences and teach our children about truth, grace and the golden gift of losing.

Losing is an opportunity to learn dignity, which is an attribute of a winner.

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