by Corinne Wnek
World class athletic events usually produce household names that come to personify hard-work, courage and glamour. People like Gabby Douglas or Michael Phelps, got well-deserved gold medals after all their training and they deserve to be on the cover of Wheaties boxes. But would these athletes still be considered winners had they not won gold?
Most likely they would fade in our memory 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 gold medals are ‘proof’ that one is a winner.
Back in the day when my daughter was competing in gymnastics, I was thrilled when she became the state champion on floor exercise and the balance beam. But there were many meets when she did not medal. Sometimes athletes hit a psychological wall and it’s hard to get passed 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 tear. Where is the motivation to do your best if everyone gets the same recognition? What we really need is a better message about what a winner is.
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 resiliency. Figuring out how to bounce back from disappointment is huge and it is important that, as adults, we demonstrate this to our kids when we deal with our own setbacks. Acknowledging anger or a sense of unfairness is important, but offering a ‘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 earmarks of a real winner both on and off the playing field.
Still, my daughter would have looked pretty good on a box of Wheaties.
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