I have never been known for my athletic prowess. Yes, I dabbled in sports, as all boys do, but poorly, awkwardly, and with the same kind of commitment one might find in an inmate breaking rocks in a prison yard. I took it as an accomplishment when I got more than 15 minutes playing time on the soccer pitch, or when I was chosen in the middle when we were picking teams in gym class.
I actually never wanted to be an athlete -- neither in high school, where it was encouraged by the good Jesuit fathers, nor in college, where I might have excelled, given that my school was politely referred to as a "field hockey powerhouse." Sure, I enjoyed the comraderie of sports, the thrills of victory and all that, but my true pursuits were usually served in a frosted pint glass.
As a result, my sainted mother was never forced to clear shelf space for the trophies I brought home. And that never brought me shame, a nervous tick or a fistful of Lexapro for breakfast. In fact, despite my very best efforts, I have done fairly well for myself. It didn't dull my zeal to win either, as the competitors in our rearview mirror can tell you.
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I make this confession because someone needs to stand up for cheering, or for competitive zeal, and it might as well be this medicore right halfback. We have moved beyond the trend where every kid gets a trophy just for showing up into something potentially more insidious: We are not even allowed to cheer on our children.
At issue is "Silent Cheer Day." According to the Coeur d'Alene Press, an Idaho recreation league banned parents from cheering loudly during games. "The goal," the paper said, "is for parents and spectators to find less distracting ways to communicate their support for their kids, such as applause and signage, and eliminate some of the negativity that can come out during a game."
Some call this no more than a tempest in a (one would imagine, non-whistling) teapot, but it isn't. At heart is a psychological movement in sports that works to bring up the poor performers by eliminating anything that might make them feel bad about how crappily they shoot a basketball. When you cheer loudly for someone who sinks a three-pointer, the kid who still shoots underhand might feel a bit self-conscious, after all.
It is true that the policy is more aimed toward jeering than cheering, and some parents get themselves in a bit of a lather and make longshoremen blush from the bleachers. But that is part of the game, too. For those sporting moments in carefully regulated time, we have heroes and villains (some in opposing uniforms and, more often, some wearing black and white stripes). We are also meant to have winners and losers. Yes, I said the "L" word. A team can lose.
The winners rightfully revel in their accomplishment. It came, after all, from hard work, from practice, communication and drills. But it also came from the belief in themselves as individuals and how those individuals could work collaboratively to reach their goals.
The losers, though, get something out of their effort. They, too, have practiced, have self-belief, and an experience from which to learn. There is no shame in losing or failure, whether in sports or business. There is only learning. It hurts -- we speak of the "agony of defeat," after all -- but it teaches.
Not being able to cheer a winning side, or boo an opposing squad, smacks of trying to ensure an equal outcome for all. When we take achievement out of the equation, and expect everyone to feel success, as if it is somehow an entitlement of suiting up, we take away the opportunity to learn, to strive and to work hard toward winning, which should always be our objective.
Now, you might argue that we are talking of kids here, and thus they deserve to be treated with kid gloves. But this attitude is creeping into our national economic psyche. We are inundated each day with messages that the deck is stacked against people, that a wealthy few keep down the masses. As a result, we are told we need redistributive tax policies, or wealth equity, to remedy all the inbalances in the world. Forget that we all have equal opportunity. People nowadays demand equal outcomes.
And yet true entrepreneurs and business leaders know the opposite it true. The most successful business leaders have tasted far more defeat than victory. They have lost clients and customers to better-prepared competitors. Their response has been to learn from those losses and turn them into future wins. They never went to a customer and demanded a trophy simply to acknowledge their sales deck had pretty charts and numbers.
Success takes hard work, and it builds self-esteem. The path to success has real-world winners and losers. Cheer them, boo them, but for G-d's sake don't be silent. More importantly, teach the children what they can learn from losing. That will, after all, teach them more about winning than any hollow victory can, whether people clap or not.
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