10.27.2006

Let Kids Lose

What I'm about to write might make you think that I've become evil incarnate, or at least subject me to catcalls and raised eyebrows, but oh well.  Remember earlier this year when the Little League baseball coach from Bountiful, Utah, intentionally walked the other team's best hitter with a runner on third in the last inning of the championship game so his pitcher could face Romney Oaks, a cancer survivor who wore a special helmet?  Young Romney struck out and cried about it, the other team won by one, and people nationwide were livid about it.  From ESPN to MSNBC to Sports Illustrated, people lamented that this is what our society has come to: winning at all costs, even to the point of teaching our kids that it's OK to pick on the weak.

Sorry, but while I wouldn't wish to be in the baseball coach's position, if I had to be there I'd do the same.  Of course winning isn't everything: you shouldn't cheat, you should be a good sport, and having fun is more important than who wins and who loses.  But kids need to learn about success and failure, too, and sports are a great way to do that, because there are times you win and times you lose.  We do our kids a disservice if we sugar-coat strikeouts and losses, or insulate them from experiencing them in the first place. 

And the notion that it's reprehensible to pick on the cancer survivor?  Take it from someone who also struck out to end a championship game in Little League: painful as it was, and I cried after it happened just like Romney did, I'd choose having the chance and failing than not having the chance at all.  In fact, young Romney seemed surprised the story was making the rounds nationally, and was quoted as saying he just hoped to have another chance in the future so he could get a hit and win the game.  He too, though it hurt to fail, was glad for the chance to fail, and even wanted another chance. 

In sports as in life, failure is often just as rich, if not more so, with lessons and with opportunities for growth.  Let's stop babying our kids: if we take the time to tell them we love and value them no matter what their external performance, then we're free to celebrate their wins and acknowledge their losses, instead of shielding them from those losses or vilifying their opponents who would dare try to win against them. 
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