In promoting my book, Life. Game On! A Competitor’s Guide, I’ve taken it upon myself to spread positivity by endorsing healthy competition. In doing so, I’ve met some wonderful people with great questions. One of the questions I keep getting asked is, “Dani, you promote healthy competition, but how does that play into the whole everyone gets a trophy mentality?” Short answer, it doesn’t. Everyone does not get a trophy. Come on people. I’m not sure who these parents are who are so afraid to let their children experience real emotions. Since when does everyone have to win? That’s not competition. Much like our overly political correct antics which now prevent an OCD Christmas sweater from seeing the light of day for fear of its supposed “offensiveness,” this mindset imposes its beliefs and values upon others without even granting them the option of being able to choose which philosophy they’d like to ascribe to. Who are these parents and what are they trying to accomplish by eliminating the concept of winners and losers? If I am to try to understand how these individuals think, I guess I’d argue on their behalf and sympathize with the fact that they are just being caring parents who would never like to see their child frown or be disappointed. That’s great in theory but that ain’t life.
Life is a competition, and if you are to learn anything about yourself and others you might as well get used to it and quit running from the game. I was having dinner the other night with a girlfriend of mine who teaches first grade. We happened to get on the topic of healthy competition when she shared a disturbing story with me. She told me how one girl in her class told another girl that she would no longer be friends with her anymore, because she was jealous of her winning a classroom game. My girlfriend, the teacher, happened to over hear this and was appalled. By not wanting to lose, this first grade girl was resorting to bullying tactics so that she wouldn’t have to admit or accept the fact that she could not always be the best. For unhealthy competition to rear its ugly head at such an early age makes me wonder where we went wrong, and what can we do to re-route this train so that we can get it back on the right track?
While I cannot expect a first grader to become self-aware and understand her emotions as they relate to her actions, I can’t imagine that this is an isolated incident. We can ask teachers to be mindful and become aware of these types of antics and address them as needed, but it all really boils down to child rearing and how a parent nurture’s a child’s competitive nature. A competitive child is something to be proud of, but it is also a responsibility. It’s not easy explaining to a six year old that it’s ok to lose, that they’re not expected to be perfect and that life is about winning and losing with grace, but it’s better to teach them this lesson when they are young as the pain will only get worse with age. Think chickenpox.
If I were growing up in today’s world and received a trophy for every swim race I participated in, my parents would run out of storage room for all my non-monumental medals and my values and purpose for swimming would be drastically distorted. What about my passion and does all this dilute the fun? Of course I’d want to win the gold but if everyone won the gold, how would my medal mean anything? Part of being a champion in life is knowing the taste of defeat and the thrill of triumph. When I was an age group competitive swimmer, I hated losing, but it taught me something. Failure brings about progress and personal growth. If our performance and our rewards remain constant, how can we expect to excel? In the absence of competition, where lies the challenge? In every great story where there’s a hero, we’re inspired by that individual’s ability to fight and prosper. If that hero were given everything from the beginning, we’d no longer see him or her as inspirational. They would have no appeal. They’d be just like everyone else, so I guess they’d have a trophy.