Sports Aren't Life, But They Teach Life

Cancer Survivor Katherine Kuchta at Relay for Life in Wallaceburg

Cancer Survivor Katherine Kuchta at Relay for Life in Wallaceburg

For many sports fanatics, sports may seem like the be all and end all of life. Many of us spend thousands of hours a year in arenas, at fields, or in gymnasiums, and even more hours watching sports on television.

But there is a line, and it’s an important one for kids to understand, that sports aren’t life, but they teach life.

A few years ago I wrote a column for the Chatham-Kent Daily Post titled, “Losing Does Not Deserve a Trophy.” Recently I’ve been thinking about this topic again. Why are we giving our youth trophies and ribbons for losing? With track and field, year end award banquets, and tournaments coming and going in the past months, our youth have been packing their trophy shelves with meaningless pieces of plastic that simply show parents paid an extra $20 at the start of the year to assure everyone gets a trophy.

Here’s the reality. If you suck at your job, you get fired. If you suck at hockey, you get cut. But we’re giving these kids a sense of entitlement to life, because even though little Susie can’t kick a ball, and cries everytime her parents put her in the car to go to soccer, she’s still going to get a medal, ribbon, or two foot trophy calling her a winner. Flat out, this is one of the dumbest messages we can send to kids.

Sports aren’t life, there are more important things, but they can teach life. If you are terrible at a sport, here’s the options: work harder to improve, or find a different activity. Sports can teach kids how to overcome losing and adversity, and the importance of hard work for success. They shouldn’t be teaching that if you show up and pay your money, you will be given rewards and success. Kids need to learn to overcome the adversity of losing and getting cut, and failing, so that when it happens in real life, they are better prepared to cope.

If you don’t want to work hard at one sport, find another. It’s like in school or work. If you struggle with numbers, don’t be an accountant. If you struggle with talking to people, don’t go into customer service, and if you aren’t a hands on person, stay out of the auto shop. But, there is something every person is good at. They should be rewarded for these skills. The customer service rep that tells off his first five clients on the phone, usually doesn’t get a raise, so why are we rewarding mediocrity or flat out failure in sport? We’re teaching our youth the wrong things.

What is life then, and how can we reverse the topic? Look at the Relay for Life that just took place in Wallaceburg and Chatham. Those people, the survivors, families, and friends, they know about adversity, they know what it means to fight for everything they have. In the picture for this article, you’ll see my nearly 80 year old Grandma. She was diagnosed with cancer at age 75. She also immigrated from Czechoslovakia at a time when Communism and poverty were predominant. She never won a trophy when she was a child. What did she say when she was diagnosed with uterine and ovarian cancer at age 75? “That’s ok, there’s no way something like cancer can beat me.” After rounds of chemotherapy and radiation and a surgery, she was right, and Friday we walked together in the Survivor’s lap at Relay for Life.

When our kids go off to university and fail their first exam or assignment, and their world comes crashing down around them because no one is there to help them, to give them a make up test, or to tell them that they know they just broke up with their girlfriend, so we just won’t count that test…that’s life. And our kids aren’t prepared to deal with it.

One of my favourite quotes says, “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Do you think the Vancouver Canucks wanted a ribbon, or a second place trophy after losing game seven of the Stanley Cup playoffs? No way. But will losing and receiving nothing serve as motivation for the rest of those players’ careers? You bet.

The next time your coach or league tries to give your kid a two foot trophy for simply showing up, let your child take it home, take out a box, and put it inside. Then talk to your child about hard work, overcoming adversity, and explain to them what it will feel like to actually achieve an award, or win a trophy.

Then when “life” strikes, they won’t fall apart, because they’ll know what hard work is. When they fail a test, or the doctor gives them bad news, they’ll fight. Sure they might lose, but they’ll fight, and work, and learn, and that is something to be proud of and admire.

Sports are not life, but they can teach life, and losing does not deserve a trophy. So let’s start teaching our kids, instead of rewarding them for other people’s accomplishments.

Let the games begin.

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