I discovered Cafe.com the other day (I think I clicked on a link in an email) and spent some time reading a few different pieces and clicking around the site (and briefly thought “are they accepting submissions?” and then looked at their contributors and staff writers and thought “hah, no, maybe in a few years or decades”). And eventually I landed on this piece by Melissa Kirsch.
And, um, okay.
I have some thoughts about it.
Let’s start with her obsession with War and get that out of the way. Because, yeah, it’s a stupid card game devoid of skill or strategy, like she says. No arguments. Which, I think, is why I thought of it as nothing more than a mindless time-killer when I was little. You know, something to pass the time on long car rides, while waiting to get picked up after school, or in between games during soccer tournaments.
Yeah. I played youth sports nearly year-round from the age of 5 through high school, more or less. Soccer. Softball. Track & field. Volleyball. Basketball. I even took tennis lessons for a brief period. And then, of course, cross country and distance running took over my life.
Oh, and then, in college, I played rugby for like 10 seconds until I broke my ankle in a game.
The point is, youth sports — team sports — were a huge part of my life, and of my brother’s lives, and most of my friend’s lives.
Now, Kirsch doesn’t really touch on youth sports that much in her piece, but the point I want to make is that those sports, those teams, taught me hundreds of lessons over the years. But the absolute, #1, Golden Rule-caliber lesson I learned?
Winning isn’t everything.
In fact, at one point (and I have absolutely no memory of the context of this, but I’m guessing it was after a tough, frustrating loss), my dad told me that the Vince Lombardi quote that’s in, like, every locker room in America — “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing” — is wrong. According to him, the actual quote is:
Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.
Now, I haven’t been able to verify this on the Internet — yet — but I happen to like that version a lot better.
As best I can tell, Kirsch’s argument is that Physical Education tests like running the mile or those “Presidential Fitness Tests” like the sit-and-reach are bad because they separate kids into winners and losers and make the “losers” feel bad about themselves and discourage them from ever trying physical activity ever. (And somehow the card game War teaches kids that winning purely by luck is the only thing worth striving for?)
Obviously Kirsch had a terrible experience running the mile as a youth. I get that and that sucks.
I’d argue, however, that maybe if more kids played sports, or engaged in SOME SORT OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY that they saw as “fun,” maybe they’d understand that The Mile wasn’t this awful thing to be feared. Maybe they’d understand that slow or fast didn’t matter, but the fact that their body was capable of moving them that distance at any speed was pretty cool and worth celebrating. Maybe they’d understand that their body responds when stressed in physical activity and greater gains are possible with a little struggle. Maybe they’d know that coming in first or last didn’t make a damn bit of difference as long as they tried their hardest and gave their best effort.
Now, I know athletics don’t come naturally to everyone (I never feel less athletic or graceful as when I try to follow along with an instructional dance video on YouTube). I’m not saying that everyone should play in Little League or youth soccer or pee-wee football or whatever. I am saying that maybe if more kids learned A) that being active can be a total blast and B) that effort, and not winning, is what really counts, maybe more of us would “win.”
(And I’m not even getting into everything I learned about how to be a good sport and supportive teammate.)