Monday, March 22, 2010

Coddling Mediocrity?

Recently Angus had a basketball game that didn't go so well. Da Man is coaching her and it is her first season with players who had never played before either. So it is a newbie third grade team. They played a team that had been playing since kindergarten. It was a massacre. The final score must have been 45 to 12 or something painful like that. During halftime, the scorekeepers in an act of mercy wiped the scorecard clean and kept tally privately instead. It was in the second half that Angus and her teammates got a little bit livelier and scored 12 points. The scorekeepers put the 12 up but kept the other teams score at 0, which surprised me and ended up confusing our players.

The coach for the other team, a really lovely and gracious coach, kept calling out to her players to let our team take shots. Plus overall, I thought her players showed excellent good sportsmanship. I applaud coaches like her, and Da Man, - they are few and far between.

But the reason for the story is afterward, Angus came over and said "Did you see Mom? We got 12 and the other team didn't get any points in that second half!"

I corrected her and told her that the other team had actually scored also, but the scorekeepers hadn't added it to the scoreboard. Angus was disappointed.

Another mother overheard me and admonished me. "You shouldn't have told her that. Let her believe that they did well."

I was a bit surprised. "But they did do well. And I'm not going to lie to her."

"You're a bit too harsh," the other mother said. "I would have just let her believe it so she still feels good about it. Now you've made her depressed."

I made a non-committal response and left but I thought about this for a long time. Did I do wrong? Should I have let Angus continue to believe that they had dominated the other team and kept them to 0 points when in fact the other team had outscored them again in both halves?

My gut screams no. First because it is dishonest. But secondly, because I believe this is a form of coddling that I just can't agree to. It's like giving awards to every team that plays, even if they didn't win. Personally, I think it is bull, but I can live with it. I'm of the old fashioned viewpoint that if you win, you get an award, and if you lose you get a hug and you go out to buy ice cream as a consolation prize. I applaud effort and I believe it is important to encourage effort, but don't reward it because then I feel you are just pushing for mediocrity. A sense of "well I tried and that's good enough." Yes and No. Try, and keep trying, and maybe one day you will succeed. And when you succeed, you'll be rewarded. That's life. To teach our kids any differently is to set them up for enumerable heartache.

But maybe I'm wrong. I'd love to hear other people's opinion.


cindy said...

i agree with you. i'm totally harsh mom. sweet pea in a "oh not fair" stage and i always say back, who told you life was fair? if i ever wrote a memoir, that'd be the title, ha!

i def think there's a generation of too much coddling and life isn't about being coddled. how will they face difficulties and challenges if we are always sugar coating things for them?

Blogless Troll said...

I used to coach Little League and have been on both sides of blowouts and I can tell you for a fact it embarrasses the parents (on both teams) more than the kids. Kids know when they're getting their butts kicked, and if they don't it's because they were having too much fun to notice. That, or adults were lying to them.

Personally, I think lying to kids about the score is cowardly. It teaches/implies that they should be ashamed, that they were so bad the score is unspeakable. When instead the lesson should be that the other team has been playing and practicing for four years and is an example of what can be achieved if you work hard, etc.

Parents like that mother make me sick, and 9 times out of 10 their kid is a pain in the ass because she/he has been coddled.

helgor said...

Like Cindy, I'm a 'shoot from the hip' Mom. We don't do kids any favours by an 'everyone gets a trophy' mentality.

That other team worked hard, practising for three years already. Angus' team did well too, rallying in the second half. They should both be proud of their success but the opponents shouldn't be robbed of their victory either.

It's like I tell my girls when A succeeds at something great and B feels the need to pull their 'yeah, but guess what _I_ did" routine.

"One person's success doesn't diminish yours. Let's be happy for A right now. This is her moment."

So no, you were not wrong. I would have done the same thing!

Anna Staniszewski said...

I agree too. I'm not a parent(yet) but I see children being praised and rewarded for pretty much everything and it drives me nuts. Of course children should be encouraged, but they should also understand that trying isn't the same thing as succeeding.

Btw, I love this!
"I'm of the old fashioned viewpoint that if you win, you get an award, and if you lose you get a hug and you go out to buy ice cream as a consolation prize."

jjdebenedictis said...

I'm with you. Kids learn by example. What kind of example do you set by lying to them?

Or by teaching them that bad stuff somehow doesn't count if you just ignore it?

Hepius said...

You did the right thing. And I applaud the opposing coach as well.

JKB said...

What Matt and Cindy said.


I'm not that far in momhood yet but your approach is the one I'd take too.

laughingwolf said...

for the most part i agree with you...

BUT... too much emphasis is put on winning/losing instead of playing for the sport itself

Angie said...

I'm with you on this. Not only is a pointless award, well, pointless, eventually she'll learn enough about the sport to remember that yeah, the other team did get the ball through the hoop quite a few times during the second half, and then she'll know you lied to her and will be much less likely to trust you after that. I'm sure the other mother meant well, but the positive outcome she values is only good in the short term; stuff like that rebounds and snaps you in the ass, hard.


Vivian Mahoney said...

You did the right thing. Kids totally know when a parent is snowballing them. You're creating trust, honor and self-respect.

Kimbra Kasch said...

I always taught my kids to play their hardest - my daughter plays college ball now.

Once she got admonished for playing hard til the end when her team was losing. The Athletic Director said, "it was no use."

I told her, "the real losers give up, the champions keep on playing whether they lose or win."

It's all about effort - really - not whether you lose or win.

Kelly Polark said...

I agree with you 100%. First of all yay to your daughter for playing basketball!!!
Two, I do think they should have just let all the pts show. At my son's first tball season, they didn't keep score and everyone got on base, but he was four years old and learning the game. I think at a third grade level, reality (keeping score) is fine. Also, you can lose and still play a great game. If she had fun, she won ! ;)

Unknown said...

UGH. I hate that kind of thing! THAT is the reason why kids come to expect just completing something = good enough.

URK. SO angry. Must sputter some more and pet my dog to calm down.

PJD said...

I think everyone has it right, and the Troll most right of all.

Where I coach soccer, we all must attend a "Positive Coaching Alliance" training. I recommend it for all youth coaches. One of the things the instructor said was that a worthy opponent is a true gift. Kim, I'm astonished that an AD would tell kids to give up. Whenever my team is getting blown out (as happens from time to time), the players rally by telling each other, "Let's give our opponent a good game." In any case, in recreation and youth sports, what gets put up on the scoreboard should reflect the true results of the effort. Youth sports can teach so much, if only we embrace the lessons instead of treating it as self esteem play time.

My older son tried his first track meet ever last weekend. He tried long jump and the 800 meter, what I consider maybe the toughest race to run. He was competing against kids that had been training and competing for four or five years, many of them bigger (they grouped by age). He came in last in the 800m and was really dejected by it. But it was OK because actually he ran a really good race, and we talked a lot about it. You can't hide the score in a foot race, and I wouldn't have even if I could have.

You did the right thing. The other mom has it backwards.

Anonymous said...

時時關心,時時感動。 ..................................................

Dana Elmendorf said...

Coddling, it creates weak, unmotivated children. It drives me crazy. You felt in your gut the right thing. I think it's ok for your daughter to feel a little down about the situation. WHen your daughter is old enough to be on her own, she's not going to have mom there to shield her from the world.

Anonymous said...

I think sportsmanship should be taught, not forced. If they were going to take the score off the scoreboard they should not have kept keeping score for only one team. That's silly, to say it nicely.

The coach should've told his players at halftime to take it easy on your daughter's team, maybe pass the ball more, and play the players on his team that aren't good. This should not have been done in earshot of your players or fans.

Basically, don't run up the score but don't act like you aren't trying. Neither one will make the other team feel very good.

"I'm of the old fashioned viewpoint that if you win, you get an award, and if you lose you get a hug and you go out to buy ice cream as a consolation prize." I would agree with that.

out of the wordwork said...

You were totally right to do that.

My son is on a competitive hockey team - there is no hiding scores and they know when they do well (try hard and go after the puck and don't hang around watching the game) and when they don't.

What's most difficult is when a player isn't played because the coach feels other players have strengths in certain situations and not others. I always say to my son when this happens: there is another game, another chance to prove yourself - even if you are only out there for 20 seconds show how much you want to play. Prove to yourself - and the coach - that you want this.

It is very hard to explain to a ten year old why competitive team sports aren't 'fair' in terms of playing time but, boy, it sure shows them what life is about. Not everybody is picked every time. Not everyone does well every game. But the most important lesson is: how do you pick yourself up from that disappointment and proceed? How will you play the next game?

writtenwyrdd said...

Parents like that woman are effing idiots. And it's worse than coddling mediocrity: parents are doing their children's science projects, homework, acting like hooligans at sporting events to make coaches and refs back down on fair calls against their kids--the list is nearly endless. And the end result? The children have no idea what it's like in the read world. They are surprized when an employer wants them to actually work, to produce; they are shocked that things aren't just handed tothem; they are floored when things don't come easily or--gasp!--they FAIL...and they don't have any coping mechanism for not being a winner.

And these are the kids who grow up thinking they owe nothing to anyone else and who are going to let their elderly parents die in misery and alone because they are now inconvenient. mark my words.

Windy said...

I've been told I'm harshly honest. Kidlet's in a stage right now where she wants everything her way and I always reply "Everything is not always about you."

I believe coddling our kids will eventually lead to the current trend I see with so many already - them feeling entitled, feeling like they don't need to work as hard as everyone else to get what they want because it should just be handed to them - they "deserve" it because they tried. Trying is great. But keeping at it is what defines you.

cindy said...

honestly, i think Losing with Grace is one of the biggest lessons in life. do you learn more when you love or do you learn more when you win? what if i'm querying and all the agents "coddled" me, refusing to directly tell me i've been rejected?
(tho the non-answer does happen these days!) unable to clue me in that i need to work on a better query, a better beginning? ha!

would the world at large hide my rejection status to "cushion the blow". um, no.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Thanks to everyone's comments - and Tony (laughingwolf) and Kim are right too. It is about playing and enjoying the sport and doing the best while you are playing, regardless of whether you win or lose.

And I think everyone agrees with those points.

And Cindy - you hit it right on the head. Losing with Grace is one of the best lessons kids can learn. Heck all of us can learn! Kids need to lose and learn from it and handle losing gracefully. And then when they win, they will win gracefully also.

March2theSea said...

The other mom should have minded her own business.

The other part is you could say "well the other team did still score more than your team earlier in the game so I think they still won".

Its hard, you don't want to make them feel bad, or "lie" to them, but telling them the harsh truth is only something they can learn to grow with.

Merry Monteleone said...

You were right, El - and honestly, why doesn't that other mom mind her own damn business? Why do some mothers think they have the right to not only judge but to tell you how to raise your kid?

One of the greatest things about organized sports for kids is that it helps teach them how to handle disappointments - why do people want to take that early coping skill away? It also teaches them things like winning as a team and losing as a team and working for everyone's interest and not just your own. These are all great lessons with consequence they can handle, to help them build up to the really heavy stuff life's gonna throw at them.

Now, what happens to all these kids who played in the 'everyone wins' league when they can't get into the college of their choice? Or get fired from a job? Or hell, any number of harsher real world scenario... I've seen some of these kids come of age and they have a way rougher time without a safety net than the older generations did.

Lana Gramlich said...

I'm just glad I don't have kids, personally. I know I'm missing out on a lot, but dang, some of the moral quandaries!

Gacknoops said...

I was googling to see if I had invented "Coddling Mediocrity" (I didn't, damn it.) and I found your blog post.
My oldest son was in fifth grade and was a very good basketball and football player. In both sports he would ask if I thought he could play professionally if there was a fifth grade NFL or NBA? I was honest but with explanation he could understand.
I asked him if there was a better quarter back than him in his legue? He said yes just one though. I explained that there is a peewee football legue in every county in our state and some counties have more than one. We have 99 counties in our state so that means there are more than 100 legues each with six or more teams. I made him do the math. 600 teams with 600 quarter backs of which more than 100 of them are as good if not better than him. Then I explained there are 50 states as well as other countries that have athletes that play in profesional sports. So that means that there are more than 5000 other quarter backs his age that are potentially better than he is.
Of course he didn't like this and his mother wanted me dead for crushing his dreams.
But, over the next few years he would keep asking me about those odds and what he could do to improve them. I explained the theory of ten thousand hours and the difference between practice makes mediocre but perfect practice makes perfect.
To shorten this story, he began to practice as often as he could at both sports. He found that it was easier to practice basket ball more often so despite being QB since fifth grade he quit football as a sophomore to focus on basketball.
He made the all state basketball team his Junior and Senior year, broke every individual basketball record in his high school and gained a full ride scholarship to a decent college. He never made it to the pro's but he went as far as his genetics would allow and probably much farther than he would have had he been coddled.

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