Losers

My aunt Jane just sent me this interesting op-ed from The Times and I must say I found it quite timely. Recently, I became aware of some of the phenomena discussed in the editorial. For example, a friend of mine told me that on her 3-year old son’s t-ball team, it is not possible to be “out.” She was describing how her son would gleefully hit the ball and meander over to first base. She said she would yell, “Run,” but her son would just look at her kinda quizzically, as if to say, “Why?” It’s not that he’s lazy – far from it; in fact, she said he’s the first to run after every ball hit. It’s just that he doesn’t understand the point of sprinting to first base. In his mind, quite understandably, all a person does is hit the ball and then move onto the base. In addition to finding the image adorable, I thought, “That’s so weird.” I didn’t have the studies cited in the article to back up my scientific conclusion that the t-ball rules were “weird,” and I didn’t really think about it in terms of harm to the child in the way the article describes.* Instead I thought, “Why on earth would it be bad to tell a kid he’s “out”? It almost seems as though the adults are implicitly suggesting that failure is a character flaw instead of what it really is: a necessary part of life. And certainly a necessary part of baseball. I mean, really. Those games are long enough.

I’m sure it won’t be fun to watch Molly fail (though if the present is any indication: I’m callous. I’m still laughing about her running smack into the clear glass door at the library), but it’s not something I’m very scared of. Of course she will fail! If she doesn’t, how will she ever succeed? It makes so much sense to me that the kids who are uber-praised will stop trying once they have that first failure. If you haven’t learned how to deal with failure early and often, it must be terrifying to experience it after only lots of “success.” Good grief! It’s like just setting kids up to fail by not letting them fall. Oy. Let’s please try not to do that, ok?

Not to mention that I have no interest in storing a boatload of crappy participation trophies in my house.

*And let me be clear: I don’t think there is any harm being done to this particular charming three-year old. I know he’s already been given – and will continue to be given – plenty of opportunities to fail and succeed in his life.

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4 Responses to “Losers”


  1. 1 Sara September 26, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Word, sister. Kids who always “win” or never “fail” will never learn how to get back on the horse. I know a certain child whose family always let him win at board games. That was a struggle to overcome, and that was one teeny thing. It all has to be part of life.

  2. 2 kateandgracie September 26, 2013 at 11:11 am

    That makes me so sad for that kid. I don’t want to be mean and point fingers at those parents, but really: you didn’t see that coming?

  3. 3 Erin Curran October 6, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    I totally agree with not sheltering kids from failure and disappointment. That said, I don’t get why three-year-olds are playing team sports in the first place. Because of our very unique and sloooooow climb up the developmental ladder as well as multiple therapies with Gus, I’ve been learning a lot about early childhood development. From what I’m reading these days, playing team sports directed by adults really is not developmentally appropriate for little kids. Instead, I understand that little kids are better off when they are given lots of time to engage in child-directed play with minimal direction and interference from adults. Time to noodle around, experiment and explore their world as well as the world of peer interactions. Too much structure takes away that organic learning opportunity, so they say.

    Check out this 1987 piece by child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim. It’s long but worth the read. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1987/03/the-importance-of-play/305129/

    One highlight:

    “Play teaches the child, without his being aware of it, the habits most needed for intellectual growth, such as stick‑to‑itiveness, which is so important in all learning. Perseverance is easily acquired around enjoyable activities such as chosen play. But if it has not become a habit through what is enjoyable, it is not likely to become one through an endeavor like schoolwork.”

    He also had a very interesting take on letting little kids win games and even change the rules.

    One last thought/question – have you seen the “collaborative” board games (instead of competitive board games)? Thoughts? I hear some parents shying away from competitive games and sports for their Littles but, I get the impression, for very different reasons than folks who may be upset because their kid didn’t get a trophy. Hmmm…

  4. 4 kateandgracie October 8, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Hi Erin!

    I’m super excited to check out the Atlantic article, but without doing so, I’ll just say that I agree with you. From what Heather has told me, the pediatricians generally recommend staying away from team sports until kids are about 6. I don’t know whether I’ll heed that advice or not, but I tend to think I’ll stay close to it. Right now, Molly is in a Montessori school that is all about child-directed play with little interference and it’s just so clear that she LOVES it. I guess I don’t know if it’s just because of her age – 19 months – or because of the new “school” we have her in, but she just seems so happy and busy and independent. I love watching her and I’ve really appreciated how amazing the teachers are at staying around and making suggestions for things from time to time, but how they often appear to just be watching.

    I’m trying not to judge my friends who have kids in team sports so young, but I have questioned what the point is. I have to imagine that sometimes it’s just something to do.

    Ok, now to read the article…


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