The scoring was quietly but quickly tallied. As the first through third place finishers in the 4th and 5th grade speech contest were announced, there were smatterings of applause and then pictures and hugs. I walked to the stage and shook the hands of the other 8 contestants before I shook the hands of the winners.
I felt the pride from the parents of the winners and the distressed feeling and sadness from the parents of the losers. I felt like they were staring at me, one of three judges that somehow had made or ruined their child’s day. I did not like that feeling. It brought back feelings of various times in the lives of my children when their performance in a particular sport or school activity was not rewarded in the way that seemed fair to me. Perhaps they sat the bench in a game or didn’t win an election or weren’t asked on a date.
I love competition. It has fueled me and provided much of the energy for most of my life…from high school and college athletics in my younger life to business in a competitive market place in my older years. Competition is healthy because it makes us be better. Basically, you win or you go home so you just fight hard to always be your best. I do not think that games should end in a tie and that those with greater skills should be made to “lose” because the rest of us can’t catch up.
However, I think it is important with our youth to also provide support so that they never associate their performance with their personal worth. It is easy to make that assessment when you do a lousy job in front of your peers. The embarrassment is possibly more dreadful than the disappointment. I loved that the teachers in charge of this speech contest started out by telling each one of them that they were already winners regardless of the outcome…and they were correct.
My wife taught me a great lesson one long football season when my son got very little play time and in our opinion was not given a chance by the coaches. Her opinion was this: I do not care if he plays in the game but with all of the effort he is putting in, you had better give him back to me better than when I gave him to you.
I love that lesson and it has stuck with me as a father, employer and a youth leader. Regardless of the talent or skill or emotional status of our youth, when we have an opportunity to be in a position of leadership over our youth we need to give them back better than when we got them. It takes extra effort and additional attention to detail but we need to do that to insure that these people know that they are worth the effort and capable of finding their place in the world…not the place that is determined by those judging them, but a place determined by them and them only.
They may not win the event but they are already winners in their core…in the things that matter most. This personal belief of self-worth then allows people to enter into competitive battles knowing that if they fail they can get up and try again. It is the process of rising to the occasion that unleashes brilliant performance…ordinary people doing extra ordinary things.
Give our youth the power of belief in themselves.
HighFive Your Life Principle: Give youth the support, coaching, teaching, love and attention to make sure that when they leave our area of responsibility they leave better than when they came in.