This year, 3 of my 6 kids started the running club and two of them (the two girls) whined and complained so much that they quit with 2 meets left. I will confess it was just easier for me to just let them quit. I hate it that I allowed them to quit and that I should have forced them to just finish, but alas, I gave in to their squeals of despair and side cramps.
A couple of weeks ago, I got an email that our school would be recognizing the kids of running club at the annual rally. I told our family that we would all go and support our little runner. We all (including the girls) agreed to cheer him on. When it came to honor our little runner, the two girls come running towards me saying that they too will be honored and given a medal just like their brother. They beamed as they accepted their medal along with their brother. The award had lost its luster to him.
Don’t worry – I realize I should have never let them get the medal in the first place, but I had no clue they were going to call out their names in front of a gym-full of people, and I wasn’t going to make them sit this out. My heart was not to embarrass them publicly, but to teach them privately.
After the rally, we had to have a very serious talk with the girls. My husband and I waited until we could tell them privately that they did not deserve those medals and that we would have to give them back to the coach. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. We told them that while their brother was running and sweating during practice, they were at home playing. While their brother’s heart was pounding at the meets, they were at home sleeping. Their brother had finished the race, they had not. They had quit, and quitters do not get medals.
All three of them take karate and all three have received their orange belt. They had to take a test and show up to practice for over 6 months to have earned that belt. I told them, “How would you feel if your oldest brother – who doesn’t do karate – how would you feel if I bought him an orange belt and he wore it around the house and told others he was an orange belt? Would you like that?” Both the girls gasped and said “no”.
As we asked for their medals, one cried because she really wanted the medal, but after this story settled a bit, she said she understood. The other – the more competitive one – understood immediately.
Medals mean nothing if the quitters get one too. Trophies mean nothing if all who participate get one. I saw this with my two older boys who are great athletes. The trophies that were given to all – even the ones who showed up to one practice and two games, are in the trash. The ones that were earned are on display for all to see and even polished.
As parents, these are hard lessons to teach our children. We need to teach them to lose gracefully and learn from that loss. We need to teach them to get up and going even when they feel down. We need to encourage good sportsmanship especially when they’re defeated. And we also need to understand that our children are uniquely made with different talents – not everyone gets a trophy and that’s okay. My two girls learned that you don’t get a medal when you abandoned the team, and their brother appreciated his medal and hard work even more.
In the Bible these qualities are exalted in believers. We are to run to finish the race set before us (Heb. 12:1-2). We are to persevere. (2 Thess. 1:4-5; Romans 5:3-4) We are to work out our salvation (Phil. 2:12). We know that he who endures trials to the end will be blessed (James 1:2-4, 12).
To those who are appalled at my words and think I am going to ruin my children’s self esteem, here is a video that plainly describes what I think about self-esteem.
I leave you with the words of Jesus found in Matthew 24:13:
But the one who endures to the end will be saved.