There are few places that bring about the smile of a child faster than Disney World. Just the thought of riding the spinning teacups or flying on Space Mountain or going on an adventure with the Pirates of Caribbean will bring cheers from any aged child. Disney World is a planet unto itself where make-believe and wonder are at the core of every day. Where else can you eat lunch with Cinderella and have dinner at Epcot while a Viking ship patrols the Fjord? Disney World was built to indulge the imagination and be the friendliest and happiest place in the world.
At the heart of the idea of Disney World was the man of imagination, Walt Disney. Everything Disney did he did for the purpose of the family and the purpose of enticing the imagination and stimulating the mind. With such an emphasis on the mind of a child, I wonder what Walt Disney would think of the diminishing value being placed on competition and curtailing the efforts to win. Walt Disney was the quintessential builder of children and family fun. Surely he would support the “everyone gets a trophy so that everyone is happy all the time” mentality right?
Walt Disney not only advocated competition, he felt it was absolutely necessary to become your best. He realized that competition creates the desire to excel. Winning brings about exhilaration, but losing brings about an opportunity to learn and improve.
Character is not built when an unearned trophy is placed in the hands of an undeserving participant. Character is built when someone faces obstacles and when the obstacles win they work harder to overcome them and then when victory comes it means something.
Let me say this as succinctly as I know how:
“It is ludicrous to think that competition is harmful to children. It is unhealthy to create a culture that promotes the unattainable notion that everyone can win all the time. It is cruel to create a sense of entitlement in a child and have them grow thinking the world will always allow them to win.”
There are stories in the news about schools doing away with the competition of “field day” because they don’t want the kids who can’t run as fast feeling bad about themselves. There are stories of schools doing away with dodge-ball because they don’t want kids to feel bad about themselves. There are stories about all the kids on the team getting a ribbon as the MVP and schools not wanting to keep score so that no one feels bad at the end of the game. This is just plain wrong!
While it might seem like a good thing to guard our kids' feelings by making sure they get a ribbon or a trophy or are always called a winner, it’s not good because that is not the way the world works. In the real world, the job market is competitive and continued employment is contingent on results. Some of you might be thinking, “Well what does that have to do with my 3rd grader?” Your 3rd grader is learning life lessons every day, and competition and the ability to compete is taught in these formative years. By the time your 3rd grader is ready to enter the job market at 18 or at 24, it will be too late to teach the value of competitiveness.
Beyond future employability, forgoing competitiveness creates a mentality that working is not necessary for achieving. If everyone gets a trophy and everyone gets a good grade and everyone wins at field day... then no one wins. It is like the quote from the movie The Incredibles, “When everyone is special, then no one will be.”
Those who are promoting an “everybody wins all the time” mentality, or even a “let’s not keep score” mentality, are basically fostering the notion that suppressing the winner will make the losing team feel better. Then where’s the incentive? Why should I work and practice and try when it doesn’t matter? Why should I try to be special when the system rewards mediocrity the same as achievement?
Here’s a cold hard fact of life – some kids are better athletes than others and will win more games. Some kids are faster and stronger than others and will be chosen first on the playground. Some kids are smarter than others and will make better grades. Some kids sing better than others and will win the part in the school play. Does that mean we need to suppress talents so other kids won’t feel they aren’t as special? Should we remove incentive to achieve so that they do not stand out more than the other kids? If we do, we are teaching kids that working for achievement is not only unnecessary it is impractical.
How about instead of trying to insure every kid gets a trophy we go back to the world of “if you want something work for it”. How about instead of rewarding mediocrity by suppressing achievement let’s award achievement, and then teach our kids to work hard so that they too can achieve. And let’s be honest about it.
There will always be kids that, even with hard work, are not going to be as fast or as strong or as athletic as some of the other kids. That doesn’t mean they should quit trying. Instead, teach them to try and to work and then to find the thing in which they excel. Incentivize kids to want that feeling of achievement and to find the thing in which they excel so that they can have that feeling. For every kid who is fast there is a kid who sings beautifully. For every kid that is strong there is a kid who excels in drama. For every boy that can hit a ball there is a boy who excels in math. For every girl that can spike a volleyball, there is a girl who writes beautiful prose.
The beauty of competition is that it makes the best rise to the top and motivates those who want to be at the top to try harder. Competition rewards achievement and gives an opportunity for anyone to win provided they have put the work and effort into it. Competition also teaches that someone will lose and someone will walk away without a trophy. That’s life. That’s real.
Here’s one more thing to think about: there are those in our country who are trying to remove competition and create an “everyone gets a trophy” mentality. We do not live in a world that has that same philosophy. We live in a world that has emerging economies and emerging societies that are hungry for success and hungry for achievement. By dampening our kids' desire to achieve, we are setting them behind those kids from other countries who are driven to succeed because of necessity and status of life.
Competition is necessary. There should be a winner and there should be a loser.
There is nothing wrong with a child hoisting a trophy he has won, and there is nothing wrong with a child watching that trophy being hoisted by another child when he has lost. This country was forged in competitiveness for land and resources and independence. Killing competitiveness and rewarding mediocrity is a great way to insure our future generations will be on the losing team in life. It is much better to learn to compete on the fields and in the classrooms and choir rooms than to learn the true consequences of losing in the workforce and in a global economy. We owe it to our kids to teach them to compete!