Why winning isn’t everything but ‘acquitting’ is something special

It’s a difficult discussion. We program our kids to excel. Spelling test coming up? Knuckle down and practise. Mathematics? I hope you’re doing well young lady. Sciences? Big effort please. But sport is more tricky. Most parents I would wager, are happy for their kids to be fit, healthy and happy and are relatively unconcerned about overall achievement (competitive shouty Dads excepted). Which is fine and arguably good, but it is also a position that lacks context and guidance (it’s folly to celebrate the win ecstatically and dismiss anything less apologetically).

On the weekend I had the great pleasure of organising and presiding over a series of short, fun cyclo-cross races for kids. There were huge smiles, lots of newbies and plenty of food for thought for parents (hmmm….maybe Johnny/Jane could take this up…). It was a huge success. However afterwards,  two contrasting incidences stuck in my mind. One lass fully threw herself into it, going from first time nervous racer to fully paid up domestique coming away with a ‘most improved’ prize – after huge improvement in lap times – and conversely, one lad descended into total, noisy meltdown because he didn’t win and couldn’t bag a trophy.

It was ugly.

I took some time to point out – in a quiet supportive way – that I’ve raced around 400 times in a 21 year endurance career, but won only twice, have a handful of second places, some thirds and lots (LOTS) of 4th’s. None of this helped. 

When it comes right down to it, the only thing that has ever mattered to me – and by extension to my view of  others – is whether or not you acquit yourself well. This is the message we should be clear to kids about. We can’t all be winners and if you lose, it really, really doesn’t matter, provided you put in your best effort and enjoyed the process of doing so. There are great personal rewards in pride at one’s own performance, not to mention the standard you set internally and the example you set to others. Cycling is a fine example of personal industry and to my mind the professional domestique is worth the same column inches and plaudits as the champ. Get that across to kids and you’ll see bigger numbers on the start line and bigger smiles at the finish. Let’s not worry about the gongs; enjoy the endeavour.

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