Professional NFL linebacker James Harrison made news recently when he posted a photo on Instagram of the participation trophies his sons were given after their youth football season ended in first and second place trophies for other teams. His message in short, was that the trophies would be going back into the hands of the coaches who had delivered them and that his boys would learn to accept trophies that they had actually earned.
Many parents criticized Harrison’s move as “harsh.” But for a professional athlete who didn’t make his way into the NFL as the result of a collection of participation awards, he probably has a pretty good idea of what it takes to really WIN. And it’s likely that he’s right. The desire to win, to do one’s personal best is born from struggle as much (if not more so) as it is from success. Denying our youth the “feeling” of defeat does so much less for their future potential to win than I think many of today’s parents realize. How will our young children be able to savor the truest sweetness of victory if we rob them of what defeat feels like?
There is no need to protect kids from disappointment. In fact, letting them feel and overcome it is paramount to future success. It’s how we tap into our hardwired Win Within. In short, defeat is character-building – not destructive. The glamour of instant gratification often overshadows the reality of how the future will actually pan out. When it all “falls apart,” a lack of experience in dealing with adversity can leave us in a much worse situation. Nothing in life is “free,” even participation trophies. With every new path we must start from dirt to build our own golden road. The adversities we face along the way are all important paving stones to help us define the type of person we want to become. Let’s not rob our kids of that important life lesson. If they begin learning it when they’re young, they may have mastered it by the time it really, truly counts.