Do you remember playing organized sports as a kid? You played your best, or maybe you were the kid that was distracted by the grass, or a bug (that was me). When the final games were finished, only the winning team, or maybe the top 3, received trophies. At least that is the experience you most likely had if you are over the age of 30. The younger generations have a completely different experience. Everyone gets a trophy, just for participating in most cases. I believe this decreases the value for those who worked hard, and actually won (that is assuming that your league keeps score...yes, some leagues don't keep score...savages).
I recently read an article on changingthegameproject.com titled "Why Kids Quit Sports", and while I agree with the points that are made in the article, I wonder if something else could be causing 3 out of 4 kids to quit organized sports and turn to video games.
Video games provide a community. They provide a place where it is ok to try and fail, but more importantly, a place where skill is rewarded. Kids and adults alike come to gaming for everything from your first person shooters like Call Of Duty or Battlefield, to massive multiplayer (MMO) games like World of Warcraft, Elder Scrolls Online, and Minecraft. These games all have very rich scoring and ranking systems, allowing players to rank themselves, not only against their friends, but against players from all over the world. There is a genuine sense of pride and accomplishment when you see yourself or your friends on the top of that leader board, or with a maxed out character. Winning used to mean something in kids sports, and it still does in the gaming community. Maybe that is another reason why kids and adults alike flock to online gaming, an industry that, according to VentureBeat.com is projected to grow 30 percent over the next 4 years to a $19.6b industry.
My son is 8 years old. He absolutely loves Minecraft. Often, he will participate in different challenges, and games that are offered on the more popular multiplayer servers like The Hive or Zombie Manic. He gets very frustrated with himself if he can't complete a challenge. It keeps him coming back over and over again, trying, not only to complete the task, but to beat the high scores and be the best. There is something to be said for that. In a culture that seems to try and celebrate mediocrity, kids are actively seeking out challenges. They are looking for that way to measure themselves against their peers and maybe against their parents (yes some parents play video games too). Have you ever sat down and played Minecraft with an 8 year old? It is astounding how fast they pick up new concepts and geometric construction techniques. There are some amazing things being built, and shared, just in that community alone.
In America, we used to strive to be the best. We put value on doing better than others, and celebrating those who were exceptional. Now in many areas, we celebrate the mediocre. We praise the lazy lifestyle, or the person who does just enough to get buy, as the "American Dream". The worst part of all of this, in my opinion, is that these values that are being instilled into our youth, to praise people who don't do well, or to say everyone that participated is equal, don't translate to adulthood. We have teens graduating and expecting to get jobs with minimal effort. If anything, the job force in this country is looking for that number one candidate. The person who can outshine everyone and bring actual value. Kids are growing up to find out that what they think is "unfair" treatment, is the way the rest of the world actually works. There are winners and losers. There are those who do well in their jobs, and those who are fired because they can't cut it. The education system in America also seems to be pandering to this softening of our youth. The local high school in my home town now has a class called "Feelings"... I'll give you a moment to let that sink in. The point of the class is to talk about your feelings. A good friend of mine does some volunteer work with the students. He asked a student what happened in Feelings class that day. The response he got was this.
"The teacher gave us chocolate and asked us how it made us feel".
Is it any wonder that China is creaming us academically. In a recent report by the BBC, Asian countries dominated the top 5 spots in test scores for math and science. The US wasn't even in the top 10! Where did we come in, you might ask? The US came in at 28th. That is simply unacceptable.
Now let's take a step back. I am not saying that we should belittle our kids, or the youth in the neighborhood, and make them feel like garbage if they can't do something well. Kids need encouragement. Just like in the gaming community, they need to know that they can try and fail. As parents, mentors, and leaders, we need to let kids know when they aren't doing well, and help them to identify how to do better. We should help them to want to be the best, and not settle for just good enough. We need to find that line between trying not to hurt a child's feelings, and teaching them the skills they will need to be an effective and productive member of society. Maybe that sounds harsh. Maybe it's just a game, and who cares? I think that treating kids like intelligent individuals that have the capacity to grow and learn from mistakes and failures, can only help them to become the best person they can be.