The Orion

Sorry, kiddos, not everyone can be a winner

Ryan Tubbs

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Illustration by Adriana Macias Photo credit: Adriana Macias

In a time of trying to make everyone feel included and important, a new mind trick has been born: the participation trophy.

Why I’ve deemed the participation trophy a mind trick is simple— it tricks kids into believing that simply participating is good enough; that showing up and going through the motions is not only seen as acceptable, but even exceptional.

And why this whole dilemma upsets me is pretty simple too— never in the real world, even when giving it everything you have, are you guaranteed to succeed in any way, shape or form.

In life, sometimes your best isn’t good enough. Sometimes, actually, a lot of times, you don’t get that dream job or ace the big test. Instead you are devastated and knocked on your ass. That right there, getting knocked on your ass, is so unbelievably important for kids to go through, because you can’t learn to pick yourself back up and give it another go until you’ve fallen.

I remember when I was in third grade and we would have a class spelling competition every Friday on whatever select words we had to study that week. We’d get in a big circle and one by one have to spell out a certain word. You got it right, keep standing. You got it wrong, sit down.

Why I’m recalling this memory is because in this competition, there could only be one winner at the end, and only that person would receive the grand prize of sour licorice.

That simple motivation, to be the last person standing and receive the major prize of all prizes, is what kept me encouraged every single week to study my spelling list and master the spelling of Mississippi.

I know for a fact that if every participant in the spelling contest were to receive sour licorice at the end, then I wouldn’t have cared about learning how to spell the name of states or worked to be the winner.

It was the competition and being the only person in class to win that kept me focused to try my best every week.

Even though I was merely in third grade and taking part in a simple weekly spelling contest, the drive I felt to win and the lesson I learned from that experience are still with me and motivate me to this day.

At this point in my young life, I do not have kids, but I certainly hope to one day. And when that time comes and my children are playing youth soccer or with a band or theatre, no matter the case, I will not want them receiving participation trophies. Harsh, maybe, but essential in their development.

You see, I don’t want my kids thinking that just because they worked hard they’re entitled to something— that just because they tried their best, they deserve the best.

That is not how life works and the sooner they realize that, the better. The sooner they realize that you need to work hard and give it everything you have to really move forward in life, the better individuals they will become. The sooner they realize to take pride in their efforts toward an overall goal, no matter the outcome, the stronger and more confident adults they will grow up to be.

Because when it really comes down to it, giving it all you have and still falling short is crucial in learning how to not give up and keep pushing forward, to take it as another challenge and not a defeat, to rise above the doubt and be able to say to yourself, “I can do this.”

Ryan Tubbs can be reached at [email protected] or @theorion_news on Twitter.

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Sorry, kiddos, not everyone can be a winner