The recent London Olympics have given us a new batch of heroes to worship. Michael Phelps, Gabby Douglas and Ryan Lochte are just a few names that have come to personify hard-work, courage and perseverance. These winners got well-deserved gold medals for doing what they trained so hard for over the past four years. No doubt we’ll be seeing more of them on the new boxes of Wheaties. But I wonder if these athletes would still be considered winners if they had not medaled in London?
I think that they probably would fade in our memory pretty quickly without that shiny hardware hanging around their necks. Notwithstanding the sacrifices these athletes made for their sport, our culture focuses on proof of being a ‘real’ winner. Scores, times and yes, medals, gold ones preferably, are proof positive that one has arrived and deserves a place in the coveted winner’s circle.
Of course in sports there are winners and losers and that is that. Back in the day when my daughter was competing in gymnastics, I was thrilled when she was the state champion on floor exercise and the balance beam. But there were many meets when Jaclyn did not medal. Sometimes athletes hit a psychological wall and it’s hard to get past it. It’s tough to come up smiling when you fall from the top of the uneven bars.
Even then, I wasn’t in favor of everyone on our team getting a gold star or an award just for showing up to compete. That included my own daughter who shed many a bucket of tears. But where is the motivation to do one’s best, let alone to win, if everyone gets the same recognition? What I am in favor of is reinforcing a better message about what a winner really is and making sure kids understand that this goes beyond external trappings.
The qualities that define a winner are pretty basic and the good news is that parents can be the first teachers on this subject. We can grow winners by first recognizing that all kids, as well as adults, have things they’re good at and things they’re not. By exposing young children to lots of different experiences, they are likely to find their own strengths and passions be it art, athletics or music.
One of the best gifts we can give to our children is to teach them about resiliency. Figuring out how to bounce back from disappointment and continue on is huge and it is important that, as adults, we demonstrate this to our kids when we deal with our own setbacks. Acknowledging anger, disappointment or a sense of unfairness is important, but offering a better ‘next time’ supports hope and expresses confidence that things can get better.
Medals and awards for hard-won accomplishments are great. But it’s not the visible medal that makes someone a winner. It’s the invisible qualities of a strong work ethic and the courage to continue when things start to get hard that are the earmark of a real winner.
Still, to have seen my daughter’s face on a box of Wheaties…
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