By Sifu Nancy Tei
Teachers and coaches are often at odds with parents who believe everybody should get a trophy. Sports tournaments now regularly offer everyone a trophy or medal regardless of their actual place in the competition. The resulting entitled mindset is so prevalent that the millennial generation (currently in their teens and 20s) is often referred to as the “Trophy Kids,” and it’s unlikely the generation currently being born will be any different.
On one hand, as a martial arts instructor I agree with the message that “winning isn’t everything.” At my school students are constantly reminded that they may not compromise a classmate’s safety or their own integrity in order to win a competition. They are forbidden from bragging if they win, and also forbidden from being “sore losers” in the event of their defeat.
On the other hand, “everybody’s a winner” is not the same as “winning isn’t everything.” “Winning isn’t everything” is a powerful reminder that there are more important things in life than achievement: namely, having good character. Meanwhile, “everybody’s a winner” promotes the fantasy that success will come regardless of your effort, involvement, or performance.
If everybody always wins, then why bother working hard? This message destroys work ethics at both ends of the spectrum. If the most hard-working children receive no more praise for their efforts than their peers, their incentive to work hard is diminished. If slackers are rewarded for doing little more than showing up, if that, they have no incentive to work any harder than they already do (or don’t). Worse, they will grow up certain that their sub par efforts should be enough to entitle them to the same success hard workers enjoy.
Winning isn’t everything, but a great work ethic is. If you work with or have children, you have a responsibility to help pass this message along to the next generation.
Sifu Nancy Tei teaches at California Academy of Martial Arts in Burbank. Tweet her @burbankwingchun or visit http://www.kungfuwingchun.com.