Winning Is Great, But Trying Is What’s Really Important

Recently I read an article in the Washington Post entitled “Everyone’s a Winner Sends the Wrong Message to Kids.” Lauren Knight, the author, related a story. She and her husband happened to be at a swimming pool where the beginning of a kid’s triathlon was being held. Here’s what she said…

“…And then we heard it, the ridiculous line and lie that has become commonplace in the arena of childhood competition: ‘Everyone is a winner just for showing up.’ We laughed out loud, shaking our heads in solidarity, having fairly recently come off a conversation about medals and awards and the every-child-is-a special-snowflake mentality that crept into the parenthood domain sometime between the time we were children and the time we had children of our own.”

She went to explain to her 7-year-old, “No, not everyone is a winner just for showing up. The winner, in this case, is the person who swims, rides and runs the fastest. The winner is the kid who crosses the finish line first.” I can’t argue with that.

On the other hand, the backlash again giving kids participation medals has gone a little too far in my opinion. James Harrison, a very good linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers – my hometown and favorite football team – made his two sons return participation trophies they received. He said, “Sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you want to do better.” I agree with this too.

But I think it’s important to reinforce kids for trying. Recognizing them for participating, for playing the game, or entering the race is important. Ms. Knight says, “Pride does not come from just showing up.” Here’s where I disagree.  I think that we all should be proud of ourselves for showing up and trying, for doing our best – even if we don’t win.

I don’t know what form recognition for showing up and trying should take in kids sports – a participant medal, a trophy – and I don’t want to get into that debate. But I do think that it is important to reinforce kids for trying. And, as James Harrison points out, helping them to use their experience – win or lose – to get better.

This holds true in careers too. You don’t always win. You don’t always get the job or the promotion. But if you can honestly say that you did your best, that you competed well and fairly, and that you learned something from the process, I believe you are a winner. Because that’s what winners do. They do their very best and they learn from their experiences.

Teddy Roosevelt said it well in his “Man in the Arena” speech…

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I think we should celebrate all those who are in the arena – those who show up and do their best, even if their best isn’t good enough.  We should reinforce kids for showing up and trying.  We should take pride in ourselves when we show up and try.

Your career mentor,


PS: I write this blog to help people create the life and career success they want and deserve. Now I’m going one step further. I’ve created a membership site in which I’ve pulled together my best thoughts on success. And, as a reader of this blog, you can become a member for free. Just go to to claim your free membership. You’ll be joining a vibrant and growing community of success minded professionals. I hope to see you there.

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