Last weekend, my son participated in his final Cub Scout Pinewood Derby. He will be moving into Boy Scouts in a few months.
His car actually made the finals in the Webelos Division. He ended up finishing in sixth place. The top four cars in each division move on to the district race. And was he ever disappointed.
Upset and angry might be a better description. He barely spoke a word to us on the way home. He only opened up when we bribed him with a McDonald's double cheeseburger. He said he was disappointed because he really wanted a trophy.
Now, my son's dresser contains plenty of trophies, three of which are from past Pinewood Derbies. Actually, last year was the first time ever that his car did not place. But he was fine with that, saying that other kids needed a chance to win a trophy.
So what changed since last year? Maybe it was because it was his final race. Perhaps it was because he based his car design on one that had come in first place several years earlier. Or maybe kids today are just used to rewards coming too easily.
When I was young, only the championship teams--whether it was football, little league or cheerleading--received trophies. When my son played flag football last fall, every child that participated got a trophy. My daugter has a bunch of cheerleading trophies in her room because every girl that performs in a competition gets one.
I have no problem with encouraging and rewarding children to boost their self-esteem and confidence. It seems that we are doing a great job teaching them to be good winners, but we are failing at teaching them to be good losers.
The world loves a winner. They applaud and idolize them. And the losers are often seen being mocked and trash-talked by the winning team. Watch any professional sports game and observe the interaction between the two teams. No wonder kids think there is so much shame in failing.
To my chagrin, my son did not congratulate one of the boys who placed in the race last Saturday. He just sulked away. Could I have forced him to offer those boys praise? Certainly, but it would not have been sincere.
Instead, we had a long talk when we got home. We discussed the importance of both winning and losing with grace. We discussed the fact that out of 24 cars in the Webelos division, his had come in sixth place. And he had done most of the work on it himself. He should be proud of that accomplishment. In the end, I think he felt much better about his performance that day.
As for me, I will be more careful to praise the effort rather than the result. Maybe if we concentrate less on trophies and awards, we can raise a generation that not only can congratulate the winners sincerely, but can also congratulate themselves on a job well done regardless of the outcome.