My 11-year-old daughter has been in competitive sports since she was 7. She was in gymnastics, Allstar cheerleading, and Tumbling and Tramp. But she didn’t love these sports. Now she is in volleyball. After her first day at volleyball camp she came home and said that she was hooked. She made the 13 and under team and has an amazing group of girls on her team that are just as passionate as she is, they go to practice 2 times a week for 2 1/2 hours and then on their days off either get extra lessons or hit the ball around the house for hours and hours, and they watch videos of games to learn from other good teams.

After only two months of training she had her first competition. She played against two other teams. The tournament took two days and after the last game (which we lost) we hugged her, told her we were proud of her, and then the team went to lunch. It was a very successful weekend even though her team didn’t win the tournament. She learned many lessons. She learned that when she made a mistake it was OK, she learned to attack, she learned that she needed a little more work and was excited to get back into the gym and train.

One week later she had another tournament and her team looked even better than the previous week. She corrected mistakes she made in her first tournament and focused on each play. All of us parents were so impressed with how well the girls were serving, communicating, and attacking plays. We didn’t win the tournament but again we all left in good spirits and excited for practice.

On the way home my daughter said “What’s the point of all these games? We don’t get medals or trophies so why are we competing?”

I smiled because all of her life every time she competed she got a medal or trophy. Even if her team didn’t win she always left with a medal. I always hated this. It was almost as if we were paying for her medal and all she had to do was show up. And what did that teach her? That even if she didn’t do good, she was a winner. I know that sounds sweet, but that isn’t a good lesson and it’s not true. Now she was in a sport that she loved, she was making huge improvements, but she wasn’t getting a material reward. She was conflicted. Why did she feel great when she didn’t win? Why was she even more motivated to get back into the gym and work harder than before? And then if she felt so good about the advancements she had made in the games, why wasn’t she awarded for her performance?

Not everyone wins. Not everyone should win. When we give awards to the top 20 kids and everyone gets an award, what does that teach them? Children do know the difference between 1st place and 20th place, but they still received a material reward for their performance. Why do we feel the need to award everyone? I am sure getting a 20th place award may even be embarrassing or worse the child may feel quite accomplished because they received an award, even with a mediocre or poor performance. What would be so bad if we didn’t reward someone for a mediocre or poor performance? I understand giving young pre-schoolers participation awards so there isn’t hundreds of little kids crying hysterically because they didn’t get a medal. But there comes a time when we should stop coddling our children and teach them that not everyone wins competitions and focusing on winning is uncontrollable and too abstract to obtain.

In the past many of my daughter’s coaches focused on winning and forgot to teach her what it took to win. Her coaches would say things like “IF you hit, you will win.” Well that’s not true. There were many times where her team hit and didn’t win, because either their best didn’t have enough  difficulty to win, or simply the other teams were just better. So instead of the girls being proud of their accomplishment of hitting their routine in cheerleading, they felt like failures. Instead the coach should have had them focus on journey based goals and not destination based. The destination goal of winning is too abstract to know what it really means?

On this volleyball team my daughter’s coach never once told them to win, she clearly and precisely explains how to hit the ball, how to stand, tells them to attack, communicate with each other, and when they make a mistake they are accountable for their mistake and try not to make it again. And if all of these things are done during their game it may bring them victory, then they truly have learned HOW to play a winning game.

This brings me back to my daughter’s question; “What’s the point of all these games? We don’t get medals or trophies so why are we competing?”

The feelings of pride my daughter was feeling after the last tournament had nothing to do with winning a material reward for her efforts. She knew she and her team had improved and she was happy. I asked her if a medal would make her happier, and she replied “No, Getting an Ace on my jump serve made me happy enough.” This was certainly an answer I wasn’t expecting from an 11-year-old, but I was very impressed that she was learning the true meaning of competition. She learned that other kids are going to be better than her and if she wants to be better than them, she must train to be better than SHE was before. She wants to learn what everyone else knows. She is now training harder because she wants to jump higher, hit harder, and move faster than she did before. And she want’s to see if she can improve every tournament and play better than before, and that my dear IS the point.