“Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”
Wilma Rudolph - multiple Gold medal-winning Olympian
The sound you may have heard echoing out of the Times Bulletin office earlier this week was our head exploding.
While this opening statement is hyperbole, of course, one of our greatest pet peeves recently made itself known again. It is the notion of either including everyone in awards or doing away with them altogether, just so someone’s feelings are not hurt.
David Fabrizio, the principal at Ipswich High School in Massachusetts, on Wednesday announced he was canceling the school’s long-standing tradition of Honors Night. The event recognizes the academic achievements of students at the school. In a letter to parents, he said his reason for the decision was the realization that not winning an award might be “devastating” to some students.
This follows only a day after a report that revealed that elementary school systems in Kingston, South West London and Surrey in England have enacted “best friend” bans. The school officials’ reasoning in this case was that children should not need to suffer the “pain of splitting up with their best friend.” Also, some children may not make close friends and they would feel left out. So at these schools, all children were told to play in large groups only.
Excuse us while we tape our head back together.
There have always been winners in life. In fact, life is based upon winning. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution sat upon a foundation of certain genetic traits being passed down to offspring by the winners, those people/animals who stayed alive.
But even more important than winning is losing. Yes, losing. Look again at the quote by Wilma Rudolph at the top of this editorial. Notice that she put more emphasis on what came out of learning from losses than from winning races.
Another world class athlete thought the same way:
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
This person was cut from his high school varsity basketball program as a sophomore and instead was sent to the junior varsity squad. In his place was named another sophomore, a classmate, by the name of Leroy Smith. While Smith went on to play NCAA Division I basketball and later have a solid professional career in Europe, the speaker of this quote used that stinging rebuke of not making the varsity to fuel his passion for decades.
He was so good on the junior varsity team that the varsity players used to sneak out of the locker room before their game just to watch him play. He later said that when he needed extra energy in a practice or game - even on through college and the NBA - he would close his eyes and imagine Leroy Smith. When his fame grew and he later needed to check into hotels under an assumed name, he checked in as Leroy Smith. When he left basketball for a brief career in baseball, his farewell speech said that everyone should have the “opportunity to play - no matter who, _______ or Leroy Smith, it doesn’t matter.” When Nike later launched a marketing campaign for this player, his nemesis on the court in the commercial was named Leroy Smith.
This person used the snub in favor of Leroy Smith to send himself to athletic heights that no one else has ever achieved.
This person was Michael Jordan.
We fully understand that not everyone can be a Rudolph or Jordan. In fact, that is our point.
Because the vast majority of us will never achieve the highest of the highs, we need to learn to deal with defeat, learn how to suffer through rejection, and emerge on the other side with the focus and the drive to be the best that we can possibly be in our lives. That is why it drives us mad when we hear about participation trophies in little league or certificates for everyone who shows up at the local science fair.
Last June, David McCullough made headlines nationwide when he spoke at the Wellesley High School graduation ceremony. He told the departing seniors, “You are not special. You are not exceptional. Contrary to what your U9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card… no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you, you’re nothing special.”
McCullough went on to say that it had become an epidemic of thinking in America that just taking part in an activity was worth accolades. He went on to say, “I said ‘one of the best’ so we can feel better about ourselves, so we can bask in a little easy distinction, however vague and unverifiable, and count ourselves among the elite, whoever they might be, and enjoy a perceived leg up on the perceived competition. But the phrase defies logic. By definition there can be only one best. You’re it or you’re not.”
Yes, there have been, and always will be, winners and losers in life. And, yes, life is not fair when some people seemingly skate through easily to accolades while others work tremendously hard to just miss an award. But how much better is it to learn that lesson as a 12-year-old little league baseball player or a 14-year-old trying out for band than to wait and learn it as a 25-year-old at a job. There is a reason why we have so many young people who can not handle less than stellar reviews. It is because we have taught them growing up that just participating is good enough.
We need to stop depriving our children of these valuable learning lessons. Sometimes - no matter how hard it is - we need to let them lose.