The other day my son was on the phone with his aunt. It was a pretty typical conversation of how are things going and various topics of small talk. When my son told her he had played a soccer game that afternoon the first question she asked was, “did you score a goal”. I'm not sure why that question struck me as funny because it is a question that my sons have been asked for as long as they have played soccer. They have talked to grandparents, aunts, uncles and neighbors and almost every time the first question asked is, “did you score a goal” followed shortly by “did you win?” When my boys have a swim meet it is often a similar question of did you win your heat. I think many parents could fill in their own version of this conversation regardless of the sport or activity.
I am probably guilty of the same line of questioning with my own sons as well as neighbors and nephews. Yet for some reason I couldn't shake that question from my head. More importantly I couldn't shake the implication of that always being the question that we ask. By doing this are we always putting the emphasis on winning and being the goal scorer? Does it take the emphasis away from having fun and enjoying the sport? I know my youngest son from time to time will get down on himself even if his team wins if he was not able to contribute with a scoring effort. He is also the one that will get down on himself if he doesn't win a swimming heat. I can't help but think the adults in his life, myself included, are contributing to this problem. We have put so much emphasis in our society and in our culture on winning that enjoyment and fun have taken a backseat. This is especially true in the world of youth sports.
I think there is a direct relationship between this phenomenon and what happens in schools. If they are in athletics or musical competitions they are often asked about their performances in terms of wins or rankings. In addition to ranking and placements, we are also constantly asking kids about their grades, GPAs, class ranks or even their baggie book level. Many early elementary readers are ranked by numbers on books or lexiles. I wonder if we are again doing the same thing in schools we are doing in youth sports by putting the emphasis on such things.
Can we change the conversations we have with our children and our students? Can we ask them if they had fun? Can we ask them if they are enjoying the activity or the learning they are engaged in? Can we ask them what they're learning instead of how their grades are? I worry often as I did when my son was having this conversation on the phone that the focus for too many children is on winning and beating somebody else. How can we shift our focus away from rankings and placements and towards fun, personal growth and learning? I think the simple answer may be with the questions we ask our children. If we know our questions illustrate our values to kids, we need to be intentional and purposeful in our questions.