Bowled Over By Young Winners

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - September 21, 2011
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My son’s school, Assets, has a great policy when it comes to student participation in sports. If you want to join a sport, you are on the team.

That’s it. There’s no rejection based on lack of experience or lack of ability. Everybody gets to play.

As a parent of a kid who probably wouldn’t have made the cut in another, more competitive school, I am deeply, deeply appreciative.

Not every school is able to do this, of course. That ours is very small means there are more opportunities for students. But there’s also a deliberate and strong philosophy of inclusion at work here.

The goal of all team sports is or should be to instill sportsmanship and teamwork. And, of course, the ultimate goal in competition is to be the best, to win.

But “best” doesn’t have to be measured solely in trophies or titles. There are other ways to define a person’s quality. What about the kid who is afraid to be judged or ridiculed, but nevertheless finds the courage to participate and compete? What about the compassion of a child who goes out of the way to console or encourage a teammate who gutters a ball or misses a critical pass?

My son would be the first to tell you he’s no athlete. But he chose a sport (bowling!), and his dad and I have watched him evolve and grow. He’s gone from hesitant and fearful to competent and proud. He understands what it feels like to be really, really bad at something, to be discouraged and frustrated and to persevere in spite of it. He has worked hard, overcome challenges and become a pretty darned good bowler. He has learned what it means to compete and to do his best for the sake of an entity larger than himself. He’s a contributor. He’s a valued member of a team. And that is priceless.

I am not against winning, of course. I love to win! And this is not a criticism of a competitive mentality. Winning at anything involves true grit, discipline and hard work. The lessons learned are important no matter what level you play. I admire the desire to be great, the push for perfection, and I respect those who pursue the heights of excellence.

But I am also grateful for the opportunity given my son to pursue a different kind of accomplishment. As I sit in the bowling alley watching him interact with his teammates, I realize how happy they all are. I see their dedication, their smiles and the excitement they share. Somebody does well and there are high fives all around. When a boy bombs out, his teammates become instant counselors, dishing out pep talks and encouragement. And they never, ever express disappointment in a player or in their score. They are, quite simply, great, great kids, and losing the match didn’t faze them one bit. They were eager to come back and do it again, try hard again, have fun again. I don’t know how you define success, but in my mind these kids are winners, in the truest sense of the word.

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