2012-07-06

We Need More Of This

The Wall Street Journal has a wonderful story about two boys who fail to make the top baseball team.

Lamenting the hyper-competitive nature of American youth athletics, the author correctly points out that "Today's athletic tracking squeezes out not only average players but those who might excel later, after they hit adolescence."

This is a real dilemma. Like me, most Americans have a well-honed spirit of competition that keeps life interesting and sports robust. So we tend to embrace the idea that children should be taught how to lose gracefully, even if that means being the worst at something sometimes. But just because Little Johnny doesn't make the team in 201X doesn't mean he might not be able to make the team in 201X+1, right?

The problem the author faced was that her sons were nearly trapped into a second-rate baseball tier after just one failure. That's not exactly how things are supposed to work. Kids shouldn't have to suffer through inferior coaches and lousy rec-leagues just because they didn't succeed the first time they tried out, right?

So she devised a novel solution. She created a new team for her sons, with the more intense training and competition of the bigger league, but without directly competing with that team. The results speak for themselves: all the kids who didn't make the "A" Team greatly improved their baseball skills despite losing every game that season; and four of them went on to make the "A" Team next year.

When people lament competitiveness in sports, it really turns me off. Competition is the whole point, it's part of the fun! By exposing her children to failure, hard work, and ultimately success, this woman has given them a lifelong gift that modern parents often underestimate. It's not "how you play the game" that counts, it's how emotionally capable you are of winning or losing.

Many parents paralyze their children by shielding them from loss and teaching them that competition is bad and doesn't matter. These parents should take a lesson from the author of this article and instead teach their children that losing once doesn't automatically mean you have to lose forever, and that victors win precisely because they work hard.