Don’t Cheer for Average …

Dadmissions worries that Cheering for Average (cross-posted here) sugarcoats the truth (about sports? about life in general?). He is right: sporting events are competitions defined by winning and losing and, by extension, winners and losers. And he’s right, you can’t hide that fact from the players. Kids know whether they won or lost, whether they are winners or losers. Average players are rarely winners. Parents shouldn’t be cheering for average.[1]

But I fear that invoking “average” might be missing the point. That already frames the issue in terms of success and failure as measured by winning and losing. Parents should be cheering for and rewarding and thereby fostering “habits of success” and dedication and perseverance (Seth Godin’s “Red Latern winners”).

While Dadmissions might have been sufficiently motivated to persevere through basketball and football, despite lacking the typical markers of success (e.g., making baskets), most people are not so motivated. Perhaps his motivation stemmed, at least in part, from his fortunate experience of being neither berated nor rewarded for his mediocrity.[2] Maybe his parents, friends, and coaches recognized that demonstrable skill is not as interesting or worthwhile as effort, determination, and commitment. Maybe they helped him develop those “habits of success.”

As a parent, I don’t cheer for average. I also don’t reward “success,” if by success we mean nothing more than having scored lots of goals or baskets, having won a game, having placed first in a running race, or having triumphed at any of the many other competitions that fill children’s lives. I have been seen to reward “failure,” if by failure we mean having missed a shot on goal or a basket, having been defeated in a game, having placed 2nd–10th in a running race, or having otherwise not triumphed at some competition. For me, winning and losing is incidental. What matters to me is learning, developing habits of success, improving.

So don’t cheer for average. Likewise, don’t cheer for excellent. Cheer for tenacity, dedication, doggedness, and stick-to-itiveness. Cheer for the effort and the labor and that seemingly interminable slog—habits that will help kids succeed in life.

  1. Dadmissions is absolutely correct, at least in my experience, that most parents are mindlessly cheering for average. Like some parody of Monty Python’s Every Sperm is Sacred, parents now consider a child’s every performance, every piece of “art,” every word and deed as sacred, good, and priceless.  ↩

  2. This seems a childhood utopia somehow devoid of typical Little League Dads, Beauty Pageant Moms, and peer hierarchies based on athletic prowess.  ↩