Competition is…good?

I remember playing Little League — or more specifically, watching my pals play while I sat on the bench and waited until we were really ahead or really behind. In the kids sports of my youth, there was no batting around or “mercy” rule that ended games when the other team was killing you. (I remember getting beaten at basketball in elementary school by about 100 points. No one believes me, but I think my school only scored four points. Yes, we were that bad. I played a lot of that game.) I thought of this because of two competing column I read this week. A college professor, on the op-ed page of the Orlando Sentinel (where I work) wrote, talking about his kids’ team today:

In this league, every kid on every team got a “participation trophy” at the end of the year. No distinguishing between first and second or first and last. Lose every game and you are the same as the team that won every game.

The author, Jack Chambless, wonders how our “coddled” kids will do in a global economy when faced with counties like China and India where competition is a daily way of life, even of survival. To a point, I agreed with Chambless. I learned a lot from competition, though I could have used a little more encouragement and less “take the pitch/you can’t hit.” In another context, when writing about Boomer bosses for Poynter.org, I wrote:

When we Boomers were kids, our dads didn’t go to our Little League games, and if they did, they wanted to know why we struck out. No praise for our “good effort,” no Life-Savers or iPods to salve our wounds. Far from the over-parenting typical of Gen-Y’s parents, we were blissfully ignored, somehow trusted to make it to school, to practice, to adulthood, with a little less attention.

I do think some of the competition and lack of over-praising” helped us baby boomers. Though now as I turn 50, perhaps I’m softening some, since I also agree a lot with another column in my newspaper, by Mike Thomas, another late-life dad, who wrote a response to Chambless. Mike writes about giving kids time to learn and grow, about the value of encouragement:

Call it genteel Darwinism. Potential will not go untapped because we didn’t give it time to emerge. And our girls will do just fine against the Chinese.