I have been giving a great deal of thought as of late to the direction in which our society is moving. Sadly, in the course of the last thirty years, we have gone from a society that reveled in competition to a society that is afraid to laud accomplishments. Some quack looked at self-esteem in the seventies and said, “Wow, people who accomplish a great deal have amazing self-esteem. Hmmm, maybe if we work on bolstering self-esteem, everyone will accomplish a great deal!” The problem is that self-esteem does not create accomplishment; accomplishment creates self-esteem.
Even though it is faulty logic, the general public loved the idea. Suddenly, we went from a society of clear winners and losers, to a society that doesn’t like to keep score. This is a problem to me. At young ages, children are learning a false sense of capability. As these children grow and mature, they are not learning a true work ethic. Why work hard? Everyone gets a trophy! Why study hard? Curriculums in schools have been so manipulated as to make sure that mediocre is the new A. (This is reality, folks. I’m a teacher.)
So what we are saying is that no one is average? But, isn’t average the numerical mean? Half are above average, the other half below. Yet, in our society, no one wants to believe that they or their children can be something average or less, and so, we have to create ways to bolster their egos so that without putting in any effort, they feel that they are great.
Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, the buck stops here. I refuse to play into this movement any longer. This summer, I coached my eight-year old daughter’s softball team. To say that they were terrible would be an understatement. We lost the first two games by over fifteen runs. In the third game, one of the fathers helped me coach. After we lost 18-9 (Oh yes, we were improving. It’s all about teaching the fundamentals.), one of the girls asked, “Who won?” The father replied, “I don’t know, I think it was super close.” Hearing him, I whipped around and flatly said, “We lost 18-9.”
You know what happened? It motivated her. She did not cry. Her feelings were not hurt. She looked at me and said, “I’m going to get my dad to work on batting with me over the weekend.” Yes, that’s right. She was motivated to do better! She wanted to win, and she realized that winning means improving, which means work.
Two games later, a parent came up to me and said, “Are we going to buy the girls trophies at the end of the season?”
To be honest, I might not have handled it correctly. I laughed. “Umm, we have not won a game. What would they be getting trophies for exactly?” I said. The mother’s mouth dropped open. “I’m sorry, I just don’t buy into everyone gets a trophy.” I continued. She smiled curtly and walked away. No one got a trophy for our season, but when they won their first game in the second to last week, the look on their faces and their excitement in their accomplishment was a reward in itself.
Yesterday, I started coaching my middle daughter’s cheerleading squad. I coached last year, and when I was asked to return, I agreed. Last year, midway through the season, I made a spirit stick. I was trying to motivate the girls to work harder and be spirited. At the end of each practice and game, I rewarded it to someone. However, last year, I felt pressure to make sure every girl got it. By the end of the season, even the girls who never deserved it, got to take it home. I fed into the idea that I couldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. But not this year. This year, in our first team meeting, I read the girls the statement I wrote in the information packet I gave to the parents.
THE SPIRIT STICK: At the end of each practice and game, I will reward one cheerleader the Spirit Stick. To be eligible, the cheerleader must be on-time to the practice or game, participate willingly, be loud and enthusiastic, not participate in horseplay, and exemplify what a true sportsman is. I am not a proponent of “everyone gets a trophy.” The girl who gets the stick will earn it! The cheerleader is welcome to take the Spirit Stick home and bring it back at the next practice or game.
I said to these nine and ten-year old girls, “If you want the stick, you have to work for it. Do you all understand?” They shook their heads, and I swear, I saw a little fire in some of their eyes. This first practice was the best practice I have ever had!
I am teaching these kids that if you want to be good, you have to work at it. And when they get good, the self-esteem will follow!