and the winner is

I'm reading a lot about how participation ribbons are evidence of our society's weak, socialist parenting style.

I'm reading a lot about how participation ribbons are, themselves, the cracks in the foundation of this great country's future.

I'm reading a lot of hysterical bullshit.

The argument seems to be that if we give out participation ribbons to our three-foot-tall athletes, rather than naming a winner and loser, then we are:

a) making the outrageous un-American assertion that winning might not be the goal when we're talking about a children's soccer game.

Of course winning matters more than learning integrity, respect, stress management skills, social skills, coordination, physical health, and good sportsmanship. WIN, TANYA. SWEEP THE LEG.

b) breeding a generation of entitled assholes who will think that all they have to do is show up and they will automatically be declared the winner of life and also the Superbowl.

Because as soon as that participation ribbon hits your 5-year-old's fist, he's going to be all, "Mom do my homework and make me a smoothie. WITH MANGO." And you'll be all, "Of course, Timmy, darling, why don't you go watch Pokemon while I write your college admissions essays? It's the least I could do after you participated so magnificently."

c) congratulating kids for things that aren't deserving of congratulations.

Because, you know, showing up and practicing and being part of the team and trying even if you're terrible, that is certainly not nearly as important as winning a single game. Because yeah, no, you're totally right, we should be rewarding innate talents WAY more than trying hard and improving.

d) depriving our children of the opportunity to learn that life is hard and sucking fucking sucks, so don't suck.

No that's definitely the parent's job. First, keep him alive. Second, teach him that life is hard. Participation ribbons are for pussies, and no son of mine is gonna be a wimp. That's why I took Chicken's favorite lovey, a stuffed bunny that he calls Mommy Bunny, and I set it on fire and then just totally murdered it with a technically street-legal semi-automatic. I mean we are still finding singed stuffing in the couch cushions. That was Christmas 2013.

e) depriving our children of the opportunity to rebound from failure. Failure teaches grit and persistence.

Nothing teaches me better than repeated, relentless, miserable failure. Especially since all my parents seem to care about is success. Yep, those hundreds of botched tennis serves and missed soccer shots, my father's silence and my mom's half-believable pat on the shoulder as she gazed adoringly at the winning team's star player, all that really made me look forward to getting back out on the court or field so I could fail some more, really humiliate myself and my family, and learn a lot from it. 

I take this shit personally. Here's why.

I was on a lot of teams in middle and high school. Volleyball, soccer, basketball, swim team, cross country.

I was terrible. I mean, fucking awful at most of them.

Coach would finally send me in (usually when we had a safe cushion. Like about a 10-point lead) and I was like a half-blind golden retriever puppy, romping around, SO TOTALLY PSYCHED to be there, and only about 40% in control of my limbs.

In volleyball, I was famous for hustling hard and throwing my body violently to the floor to get a wayward ball. I had bruises that lived for months. I think I probably got a couple of serves over the net in my four-year career.

In soccer, I was the midfielder who could plant and take out troublesome opposing players. Coach really knew how to use my strengths. Or rather, strength. It was "standing."
(Side note: my dad loves telling the story of me being a human wall on the soccer field. It makes me so happy that he is able to relish that I was having fun and contributing to the team, even though I never scored a goal.)

Tennis... I'm not even going to describe the visual insanity of me trying to play tennis. My legs and arms simply could not agree on which direction to travel. Except if that direction was "away from the ball."

Every season I showed up and tried out, even though I knew I would never, ever, ever be any good.

I got out there and hurt myself and flailed around like an epileptic speed freak at the discoteca and I never got anything but a participation ribbon at the end of the season. Actually, I think one time I got Most Improved, but that was only because in my first basketball game of the season I forgot to dribble. Twice. And by the end of the season I really almost had that one down. 

The participation ribbon said, "you showed up." And that was a pretty accurate assessment of my athletic prowess.

I was human, alive, and dressed appropriately for the sport in question.
I mostly avoided scoring on my own team.
But I never thought that I excelled.

That ribbon didn't make me think, "Woah, I thought I kind of sucked, but now that I've got this generic participation ribbon maybe I should go pro! Hey, Mom! Come do my homework for me!"

I did not contribute to the scoring of very many points or the winning of very many tournaments. But I participated. I was on the team. I led cheers. I led warm-ups. I threw team dinners. I made locker signs with everyone's jersey number on them, and I organized the coach card and gift at the end of the season. I was never, ever, ever an MVP, not once, not ever, not even close. But I showed up. I worked hard. I had fun.


Can you think of a more honorable trait to foster in your children? The perspective to recognize and value the unique contribution of each person on the team?

Can you think of a better way for your child to spend his free time? In working, playing, recognizing his own strengths and weaknesses, fostering humility, learning to be patient with teammates who struggle, learning gratitude for teammates' patience?

Why is it so fucking important for us to teach our kids that showing up doesn't matter? Showing up MATTERS. Showing up is 95% of life.

Why is it just soooo re-goddamn-diculously urgent that children learn that the world is disappointing? Why do we, as parents, feel like we need to be agents of a disappointing world and shatter the beautiful DELIGHT of our children's innocent happiness at receiving a token of participation?

"Sure, you got that ribbon from Coach Abby, but just so you know, that ribbon isn't special and it doesn't make you special. The only special one was Eloise, because she got the BIG ribbon. So next time try harder and maybe you'll be special too." Said the biggest cold-hearted bastard in the world.

If you have such a fucking problem with coach handing out a ribbon that says, "you were part of this team, win or lose, and your presence helped to make us the unique group of people that we were," then I'm happy to say that I doubt our kids will ever be on a team together.

You go hang out with the other intense, win-win-win parents who treat Little League like Wharton. You go remind your kid that showing up is only important if you also show up and WIN.
You show your child every day that your respect for him is contingent upon his achievements, and not his beautiful, fundamental character and personality.
You go tell your kid to knock off the funny business and get back to work because that curve ball isn't going to throw itself.
You go.
Have fun with that.

Oh sorry - fun's what we'll be doing. I feel sad that you're missing it.


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