What is happening to our young men these days is not a secret. As the numbers of fatherless boys increases so do the numbers for the indicators that concern legal issues, school drop out rates, property damage claims, teen suicide rates, violence toward women and on and on. Of course the question remains–‘Why’?
One of the primary reasons is we, as parents, and especially dads have stopped teaching or encouraging our sons the value of competing. We have stopped emphasizing the importance of the word ‘winning’. We have stopped talking about the importance of knowing how/why to compete. For some misguided reason parents now downplay the notion of competing and winning as a goal for their children. And it doesn’t matter what the competition is about. It could be a sporting event or a spot in the school play. It could be hitting the winning home run to win the sand lot ball game. It could be almost anything but I can tell you that the act of competing and showing he can be as good or better than the other guys and feeling as though he has won his fathers approval and praise is almost as important as eating to a young man. It is part of the human condition. We are competitive by nature. No kid comes home after losing on the baseball field, for instance, proclaiming how excited he is to have lost for the 19th time in a row this season. It just doesn’t happen. Winning is fun. Competing is fun. Being real good at something and having people acknowledge that is fun. Being singled out as the best at something is fun. It also builds a sense of self-worth and self confidence that is hard to gain almost anywhere else. Why?–because it is something that happens by his own efforts and that feels good. It says that all that hard work paid off. Just as important he can look at dad and see that dad is proud of his accomplishment too. That is everything to a young man–dad’s acceptance. We could argue about whether this is right or wrong-good or bad all day. The fact is that’s the way it is. To try to take that away or to minimize its importance is trying to change his very existence and what makes him—him.
When when he is told that winning is not important or it’s not whether you win or lose but rather how you play the game his first thoughts are likely ‘well if its not important to anyone why bother.’ Over the last two generations we have gotten away from encouraging our kids to compete–to be as good as they can be in all they try to do. Whether it’s about wanting to be an athlete, student, a race car driver, plumber or a human being–what matters is that we encourage them to understand that only their best effort will get them to where they want to be. Half measures aren’t going to cut it. If they are competing for a job then they need to be the best at the interview; know what the job is about beforehand and be prepared. Success at what they try to do builds character and self confidence. That is sorely lacking in many of our young men today. A positive sense of self also displaces the grossly over exaggerated sense of entitlement that is crippling creativity and effort in our children today. They feel they deserve a job even though they have done precious little to earn it. An attitude of ‘hey I showed up so gimme a job’ almost enters a room before they do. They have gotten the message that it’s OK to do as little as you need to in order to get by.
When we award a trophy to all the kids who played on the team and there is no distinction for those who stood out then what’s the point to all that hard work, training and practice given by those who are more skilled. Let’s acknowledge their accomplishments, extra effort, skill and talent. Perhaps your son isn’t a great soccer player but an excellent piano player. He needs to be acknowledged for his hours of practice and if he wins the competition good for him. It simply suggests that he has found a challenge that he has mastered. That’s a good thing. If your son is competitive and is upset that he didn’t get the MVP Award then he needs to be taught that he may need to work harder if that MVP trophy is that important to him and not that he deserves it just by showing up. The message then becomes one of ‘perhaps you need to be more dedicated to developing the skills needed to achieve your goal’.
Certainly every child on the team needs to be recognized for their efforts and their contribution to the team effort but not by being told that their best effort is not important. That’s not how it is in the big world and that’s one reason why there is so much apathy and questionable effort shown when they grow up.
What we need to teach our children and our competitive sons is how to accept winning with class and grace. They also need to learn how to accept defeat with class and grace. There is no shame in losing if you have put your best effort out there. They would likely be more successful at what it is they have chosen to do if they heard this message from us more often.
Winning is not the problem. Our children’s focus and understanding of what it takes to be successful is. It’s up to us as parents to change how our kids see the world they live in.
“If you didn’t win the prize but you put your best effort out there–that’s what it’s all about”–Jim
That’s how I see it anyway, Jim
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NEXT WEEK IS THE LAST ARTICLE IN THIS SERIES. BE SURE TO CHECK IT OUT. IT IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST READ THAT TIES ALL THIS TOGETHER.