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Home > Father Son Poem / Article > Article

boy with father Copyright © GettyOne

Teaching Children the Importance of Winning

by Chris Call

Like any devoted father with an ego the size of a banana tree, I prepared for the annual cub scout pine wood derby with the cunning and patience of a lioness in wait. My seven year old Tiger cub thought the car we had constructed, was "cool". Having been exposed to the rigors of previous derbies with my older son, I knew that many scouts, along with their aerospace engineer fathers, would craft six inch vehicles that would put Detroit's Big Three to shame. As race time approached, I employed all my creative energy to produce a car that would do my son proud.

The school cafeteria had been converted to a scale model of the Indy 500 Speedway. Checkered flags and Pennzoil posters decorated the walls. A grandstand lined the track, a downhill drag strip that had been electronically wired to capture photo finish winners and display the results on a video projected image on the wall opposite the spectators. This was serious business.

Pre-race festivities included a showcase display of all the cars and, as I had anticipated, many of the cars appeared to be scale replicas of the Formula 1 racers, complete with miniature leather seats and chrome plated stick shifts. Our car fell somewhere between these prima donnas and the unpainted cars that some fathers had the audacity to let their cub scouts make on their own. I was confident that we would make a respectable showing when the wheels hit the track.

My son eagerly watched as our car was placed along side three others at the top of the track. Every car would compete in four separate heats, each time on a different track to eliminate any advantage a particular track might offer. As the wooden starting gate fell, my son cheered as our car began its descent.

It took only a few seconds for the enthusiasm to turn to disappointment. Our car limped weakly through the finish line, dead last of the four cars and not even a serious challenge for third place. The humiliation repeated itself in the subsequent three heats, each time the morale of my little scout dropping ever deeper into an abyss.

After we had retrieved our embarrassment of a car, my son's despair turned to tears. We huddled behind the grandstand, father consoling son in the face of a mutual defeat. Although I was technically responsible for the construction, and therefore the performance, of the car, my son claimed ownership. It was his car. His peers had beaten him in front of parents, siblings and scout leaders. He was humiliated.

My words seemed inadequate at the moment. I simply held him close and told him I was sorry. His troop leader, seeing us struggle with our defeat, came over and offered a few platitudes about how winning isn't everything and the important thing was to have fun.

Later, as we drove home, I talked further with my son. Winning is important, I said. We should feel bad when we lose. It does matter whether we win or lose. It is fun to compete, but it is more fun to win. Strive to be the best, I said, and don't be satisfied if you're not.

A strong lesson for a seven year old? Yes, but an even stronger lesson for his father. I realized that as adults we often accept mediocrity, we tolerate imperfection. We teach our young to be complacent in defeat, we shelter them from vicissitudes of the competitive urge. By discrediting the importance of winning we breed a generation that is content with sub-optimum performance.

Not everyone can be the winner. Those that are should be congratulated for achieving what we have not. We should then turn our own disappointment into a renewed effort to do better, to keep trying until we can stand in the winner's circle.

My son and I agreed to start early for next year's race. We're determined to bring home a trophy. We'll spend time learning and working together to build the best car we can. That's the whole purpose of the pine wood derby anyway, fathers and sons working together. That, and winning.


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