I am not very competitive. Don’t get me wrong, I like to win a game of Yahtzee. I could CRUSH a spelling bee. But I don’t go crazy if I come in second or fifth because it doesn’t mean that much to me.
My children, on the other hand, range from not very competitive to selectively competitive to one who has a full psychological and physical meltdown if they lose a spontaneous footrace across a parking lot. For. Real. And it occurred to me the other day after scrolling through Facebook and Instagram that I am raising total losers. Three of them.
Have you noticed how nearly every social media kid post involves a trophy or shiny ribbon? Trophies for softball and dance and rowing. Ribbons for orchestra, art shows and essay contests. Academic ceremonies with faux walnut plaques awarded for grades. Gold leaf certificates for college scholarships. Tournaments. Good Lord, the tournaments.
Some of the accolades sound a little far-fetched. I understand the phrase State Tournament. That is a tournament in your state. What I don’t understand is captions like “We took SECOND place at the first annual Craig’s CBD oil/bait shop soccer tournament in rural Iowa!”
My Kids Have Been on Teams that Rarely Won a Single Game
And I know people only post their highlight reel. We are all proud of our children but nobody shows a close up of their crows feet caused by raising these cherubs or the time their kid got a fat D on the test. It made me think-Does anyone place 6th? It’s still ok to place 6th right? You still went to every practice. You still played in all the games. You still made friends and improved your skills and held to a long term commitment. Someone has to come in 6thplace.
Wait. It’s my kids. My kids place 6th.
My daughter was on the worst high school dance team in our conference. They never won. They rarely placed. We dance mothers high-fived in the stands if they took fifth (out of 6). My middle son played rec basketball. Rec basketball is for the hordes of kids who can’t get a spot on the high school team. They rarely won. At the season end tournament their only real hope of playing in the final game was if the other team contracted an acute case of the stomach flu. That didn’t happen.
My son has also run on a terrible relay team in track and a cross country team that often was running in the dust of a nearby suburban school. My youngest son made the lowest hockey team in his age group and they were often crushed by the other low teams in their community. His lacrosse team got beat by one community repeatedly and now he claims he hates the entire town and “never wants to return to the City of Bloomington” ever again. He is out of luck because IKEA is in Bloomington so we will be going back.
All three of my kids played soccer for years on end. There were not many wins. And I was fine with it. I usually just folded up my portable chair and said, “Well, that’s ok because nobody here is going to the Olympics.” FYI. You will lose a few friends if you say that out loud. Because many of my fellow spectators really think they are going. TO THE OLYMPICS.
I get it. It feels good to win. And to the kids, and sometimes to us, it really appears that everyone is winning everything because social media only has winners. But I think it may be a dangerous way to grow up believing that we can all win all the time. Or even half the time. Or even place in our consolation bracket.
And all of this got me thinking about my end game. What is my end game with these losers? Well, the window of youth sports is fleeting and even high school isn’t forever (praise God) and my end game is to raise adults. Functioning adults.
So, I hope they find contentment. I hope they pursue a life they want. I hope they have good health. I hope they laugh and have good relationships and have purpose in their work. I hope they contribute to their neighborhood, community, society. I hope they spend their time in ways they will not regret. And above all, I hope they participate. I hope they just show up at stuff and do their best and take 6thplace with grace and with gratitude.
In the spirit of transparency-Our family loses ALL the time in a variety of ways. We are likely not winning at anything unless arguing in a car becomes a competitive contest. And we have already made it to Nationals in that so don’t.even.try. And I suspect these kids will be more than ok.
I bet showing up for every practice, never quitting a season, playing in a downpour, having a sore ankle for a week, working on a group project and pulling more than their fair share of responsibility, being on a team, running 12 miles a day for a season, retaking a test, practicing anything for many hours will serve them well. This is the stuff that will prove useful during adulthood. Alas, there is no Instagram fanfare for showing up.
So huge congratulations to all the losers and to the parents raising the losers. I see you. If I could, I would give every one of you 6thplace takers a really spectacular ‘thanks for showing up’ trophy. And I’d give a hug and a cup of strong coffee to the long-suffering parent who drove you to participate.
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Jen Fortner lives in Minnesota with her husband, three children and the best dog on earth. She has a MSW degree that never gets used other than to diagnose family members at holiday gatherings. She has a blog at mymildlifecrisis.com where she tells stories about her family that they never read.