When I said I might write a column about the participation-competition debate as it concerns youth sports, Mary said I should stop beating a dead horse.
But it’s not a dead horse — it’s alive and kicking. I’m afraid I’m beyond saving in this regard, admittedly beguiled by winning teams, though I’m aware at the same time that constant blows to the ego can turn one off a sport.
People my age, I think, tend not to champion the present day’s feel-good, trophy-for-everyone philosophy. As Sharon said in our tennis clinic this morning, her 11 or 12-year-old grandson, on receiving one for having, basically, shown up, was not fooled. You’ve got to know how to win and how to lose, she said. If everyone’s a winner, you’ll never know how to lose. You’ll be living, consequently, in a dream world.
Being able to treat winning and losing as the imposters they are is, I think, the key — to learn how to remain centered and calm in a frenzied, spinning world.
Preening can lead to a fall, and defeatism simply makes things worse. So what is fun, which we all want? Playing as best you can in the moment, uniting as best as you can the mind with the body so that you can be as even-tempered in victory as in defeat. And then, of course, practice, practice, practice, whether a lopsided winner or a lopsided loser on a given day.
Giving a trophy to everyone is a form of patronizing too. One should work for trophies.
As for the matter at hand, youth basketball, perhaps some constraint ought to be imposed, such as requiring each player on a squad to play a certain number of minutes (though leveling rules can smack of patronizing too).
“I’d rather be pummeled than patronized,” I said to Phil Kouffmann following a 6-0 doubles loss the other day, recalling the times pros have toyed with me rather than give me their best shots, as Phil had done. I’ll get him next time.
Meanwhile, buck up, kids. And, by all means, have fun . . . and practice, practice.