Someone just posted this to my FB feed: http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesleadershipforum/2011/11/09/growing-up-when-everyone-wins-how-do-kids-learn-to-win/.
It's yet another article decrying sports leagues where everyone gets a trophy just for playing. This is what the author blames for the problem of his young new hires acting like they're entitled to things just for showing up. He runs an advertising agency, and what he really wants are people with the will to win. After all, advertising is cut-throat competitive. Thing is, he's missing the point.
My eitght-year-old daughter is not naturally athletic, but she LOVES to play sports. She's been in those leagues where nobody walks away empty-handed. Know why? Because she CAN. When we were kids, all the sports leagues were WIN WIN WIN, and if you weren't good enough to WIN WIN WIN, you didn't get to play. Period. You went someplace else to get fit, learn about teamwork, the rules of the games, and all that. Or you went back to the couch.
She, OTOH, gets to play. There's still such a thing as winning, and she knows it. She knows the difference between a first-place trophy and a participation ribbon: One is an award for outstanding performance, and the other is a souvenir. In the meantime, she's not being taught that "Winning isn't everything, it's the ONLY thing," "You're either part of the steamroller or part of the pavement," etc. I don't want her to be taught that. If you really want to teach your kids to win at all costs, that's still there. The higher-level leagues are as competitive as the Boston Marathon. Excel there, and the colleges will be watching. In the meantime, my kid is off the couch, doing what she enjoys, and staying fit and active.
Participation ribbons are not why kids enter the adult workforce thinking they don't have to earn anything. In too many places, it's because the kids have little or no chance to do the jobs we did as teenagers. The reason they're not flipping burgers, stocking shelves or scrubbing toilets is that those jobs aren't available to teenagers. With so many unskilled and low-skilled jobs moved offshore, the adults that would have done them are now doing the jobs we did in high school. In today's McDonald's, Walmart, or jantorial service, the working language is Spanish and the medan age is over 30. These are the working poor, the ones earning minimum wage not for gas and date money, but for rent and baby formula.
So, Mr. Brunner, if your ad agency can't find new grads who've ever earned anything, maybe you could do a couple things: First, convince your executive buddies to bring back some of those offshored jobs so that the working poor could get past minimum wage, freeing the McJobs up for teens. Second, tell your executive buddies to stop using the word "earned" when describing your own compensation packages. Did Lloyd Blankfein "earn" a million dollars a WEEK in 2007, the same way I "earned" minimum wage proofreading medical bills in 1977? That's what kids read, and what they think is waiting for them when they're told to "earn a living".
And just to land this plane, yes, I as a parent am responsible for teaching my kids what it means to earn something. My 14-year-old desperately wants a gaming computer. Nothing fancy. He wants to build on a $600 budget, and I've agreed to give him a $200 credit for the computer he already has, because I'll replace one of my older machines with it. He's got about $100 saved of the $400 he needs, and we're working on ways for hm to earn the rest. He'll work, earn and save his way to something he really wants, with a tangible result at the end.
Not just participation ribbon.