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March 30th, 2010

Sports and Self-Image

One of the reasons we love sports so much is because it’s one of the last models our society has left in which excellence above all others is rewarded.

It’s one of the few areas left in which it’s okay to stand out, to rise up, to earn more than your neighbor and be applauded for doing so.

We love seeing a team rise above the others and become champions. We love finding out who the MVP of the league is, who the most valuable player is, who won rookie of the year honors – and so on.

We also love to find out HOW the champion became who he or she is. How did this person train?  What did he learn along the way that helped him? Who did he learn from?

In many youth programs, however, children are no longer being rewarded for excellence. Instead of having a most valuable player, a best all-around and a most inspirational award – EVERYONE is given a trophy, whether he truly earned one or not.

Coaches tell kids that “having fun” is most important – that winning doesn’t matter.

Huh?

How about both?

Teach kids how to win. Teach them the importance of practicing to become excellent. Teach them how to use their creative imagination, to visualize, to set
goals, to study and practice every aspect of a game.

Teach kids to love the journey as well as the game. Teach them to accept victory with humility and class. And teach them to learn from failure and mistakes with graciousness and patience.

But don’t tell them it’s only “for fun.” You aren’t fooling anyone with that line – especially the kids. Deep down they know that we keep score for a reason – and that awards aren’t supposed to go to everyone.

When I was a competitive swimmer, I won the MVP award two years in a row (age 12 and 13). The next year the coach discontinued the award, saying, “No one on our team is more valuable than anyone else. All of you are just as important as anyone else on the team.”

Theoretically she was right – but in reality, she didn’t want to give the trophy to me another time. Instead, she invented a new award for her younger sister, who was also on the team. I think it was the “I love my little sister award.”

I continued to compete in swimming three more years after the coach made this move. I won all but a couple races in that time span, breaking records all over the place. And at the end of the year, when the banquet was held, I applauded those who won awards.

I never received another award in the sport – despite my efforts – and that’s probably why I eventually lost interest. And that’s tragic when you consider that while in college – an assistant to the Iowa team timed me “just for fun” in the butterfly. Afterward he called me into his office and told me I had the potential to swim a 47 second 100-butterfly.

Outside his office the Big Ten records were posted on the wall. I looked and saw the following: 100-Fly – Mark Spitz, Indiana, 1971, 47:00.

Although I stuck with wrestling, the verbal reward from the Iowa coach remains with me to this day and I treasure it.

Yes, I’m all for giving every kid on the team a certificate – after all, every member of the World Series Champions gets a ring – but there’s still an MVP trophy for the ultimate star – the player who stood above the rest.

I say have a bigger trophy and a separate award for the kids who did better than the rest. If it’s good enough for the big leagues, then it’s good enough for kids.

Make sports fun for kids – but emphasize that in the real world – winning is a whole lot more fun than losing.

Build your child’s self-image with sports. Teach him the value of practice. And regardless of whether your child is the MVP or not, you can show him how much he improved by using his mind and
his body in the right way.

Tell a child that it’s only “for fun” and he’ll never learn the value of practice and what can be accomplished because of it.

Sports are one of the last remaining metaphors that haven’t been collectivized with the “not everyone can be great so let’s punish the best among us and make everyone the same” ideology.

At least not at the professional or collegiate level. Heaven help us if that ever happens.

Best,

Matt Furey

P.S. Want to learn how I rose above the herd to become a champion – then you’ll love reading The Unbeatable Man – where I reveal all.

P.P.S. And if you want to supercharge your son or daughter with high-powered self-image boosters for sports or anything else – then teach him the skills contained in Zero Resistance Living.

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