The demise of competitive spirit and the imminent loss of character

To the Editor:

Over the past year a Milford-based children’s sports league swapped players to different teams to “realign” teams of eight- through ten-year-olds to keep them equally competitive. This was after one of the teams was “losing too much.” Isn’t “equally competitive” an oxymoron? Don’t we compete to show off our skills — to have a winner and a loser?

More recently my fury about this was fed by national news that a high school football team parent in Texas complained of bullying because the winners’ score was too high for their son’s liking. Texas no less. And do you know I found an article about this on a UK website? How embarrassing.

What’s happening here? I think it reflects what’s happening on a universal level in this current “Me Generation” — a generation of youth characterized by believing they are entitled. It’s times like this where adults are at fault for sending the message to children that they are entitled to be winners. They aren’t.

You aren’t entitled to win. You earn your spot on the medal stand. Are my fellow parents so fearful of exposing their children to loss in a game of sport that they have to “equalize” the playing field? So fearful that they’re keeping them from developing that inner fire that drives us: The Competitive Spirit?

Competition is part of adult life too. The difference between you and the person who wins a job may be one word on a résumé. You cannot ask your mommy to “equalize” the candidate search. You must differentiate yourself and win the job. We learn this concept when we are children on the playing field.

This “equalizing” sounds like sports socialism to me. Why do those who go to practice and work hard have to give up the reward for sore losers? The loss of Competitive Spirit — the desire to get out on the playing field and keep up the good work win or lose — is going to net us a bunch of lily-livered adults who think they are entitled to have success handed to them. We can’t afford to teach our children that the playing field of life is equalized.

If you’re winning, keep it up. But don’t ever rest on your laurels because there’s someone right behind you aspiring and competing hard for your position. Keep improving and be a good leader.

If you’re losing, don’t give up. The reward is in the journey. Find good mentors, seek good advice, practice hard and try, try again. Don’t’ be thrown off course by those who would try to protect you from the spirit of the game. You will be a better person for it.

Character is shown by how we behave in life. By how we behave when we win and how we behave when we lose. Grantland Rice expressed it beautifully in this excerpt from his poem “Alumnus Football”:

Keep coming back, and though the world may romp across your spine,

Let every game’s end find you still upon the battling line;

For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name,

He writes — not that you won or lost — but how you played the Game.

Carolyn Dennis