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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Wanting to Win

Hey all - made my annual sojourn to Buffalo.  Ran a good, hard, fast race today, and shared it with some good people.  I gotta say, I got high hopes for this year's NYC, if the last two Halfs I've run are a good indication of things to come.

This race comes on the wings of a recent field day story.  An elementary school sent out a flyer to parents expecting that any competitiveness was to be kept to a minimum.  This brought outrage from many - how can we keep rewarding kids for doing the bare minimum, and telling them that winning and losing don't matter?  They'll never make it in the real world, where winning and losing do count!

They're not wrong to say this.  However, I think that school took this approach to stop bullying more than they did to neutralize the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.  I don't think children are damaged so much by "sucking" at some game as much as they are by having that fact rubbed in their face by someone else who thinks their win gives them free reign to bully and harass those they defeated.  If they were able to accept defeat without these undeserved consequences, the growth needed to accept defeat, but use it to learn how to win next time, would be more likely to happen.

For example, look at my sport.  In running, the fastest athletes do not shame those who are not as fast.  There is no trash-talking, no nose-thumbing, no jeering, and no "you suck" chants for those who fall short of the Olympic ideal. Instead, there is plain old sportsmanship.  Sometimes, the faster runners will stop by the finish line after their race is over and cheer for the slower runners.  

Nobody wants to hear that "we're all winners."  But in running, it's true.  In this sport, the main idea is not to compete against someone else to win a race over them.  The fact that each runner has chosen to sacrifice creature comforts simply to enter a race REALLY DOES make each runner a winner, whether or not they place.  This attitude is adopted and encouraged throughout our sport, and it persists.

I think that's the message the field day organizers really wanted to convey, but didn't.  It's not about discouraging the more athletic kids from doing something they're good at, or selling short their accomplishments for someone else's bruised self esteem.  It's about letting those who are NOT all-stars realize that there is merit in making an attempt, that there is pride in taking your best shot at any goal, win or lose, and that every defeat, setback, or mistake has a lesson hidden within that just begs to be learned.  But those hard lessons are best delivered with a sense of respect, and not with being booed off the "field," if you will.

As beta males, we are living proof that "hard knocks" and "tough love" are not the fail safe methods some believe them to be.  Sometimes they make things  worse.  Sometimes a pat on the back does more good than a smack in the ass.  Maybe if these field day organizers had recognized this, instead of punishing athletes for being athletic, this story would not have been newsworthy.

That's my story from the Frontier.  Congrats to everyone who ran the Buffalo Full and Half Marathons this year - a great day for a great race.  And I invite all of you Western New Yorkers to come on down to the Big Apple and watch the City play host to a race that runs a close second to Buffalo in friendliness and encouragement from the crowds along the course!  :)