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Rich In Thought - Not Every Olympian Gets A Medal
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With the closing of the London Olympics earlier this month, I was impressed with the United States team’s 104 medal count leading the way over other countries, with some competitors even receiving multiple medals. While I stress that making the US Olympic team is quite an honor in itself, I also accept that not all of the competing 539 US athletes received a medal – and rightfully so since the games are a highly competitive event.

However, in an age where many believe today’s youth need to boost self-esteem and that “competition” is a bad thing, I find it disappointing that the increasingly self-congratulatory society is insisting on the “everyone gets a trophy” custom for many youth sports leagues.

When I was younger and played sports, we kept score and not everybody got a trophy at the end of the season.

Members of the first, second and third place teams got trophies that tapered in size and bling and even some MVP awards were given out. We were awarded for our “accomplishments” and not just our “participation” in the league.

Where do you get your competitive drive if you come in 11th in a 12-team league and still get a trophy? What’s the value of a trophy if everyone got one?

The kids of the “everyone’s-a-winner” leagues are getting trophies not for winning championships but for simply participating in the league. Why would a child push himself later in life to be the best if all he knows is that he’ll receive the same reward for simply being a participant?

What has been created is an age where many of today’s youth suffer from a sense of self-importance and entitlement.

Even in my prior life as a police supervisor, I saw a new generation of employees that seemed to expect to be rewarded or acknowledged for just being present during an incident despite their performance or contributions to a situation.

These days the warm and fuzzies start early in a kid’s life. In addition to trophymania, it seems more and more, every kindergarten, elementary, and middle school now has some sort of “commencement” ceremony all with caps, gowns, and awards to be made to feel “special” just for moving along to the next grade. Even in my old stomping grounds of Stockton, where accountability and achievement now takes a back seat to concerns with self-esteem, students didn’t have to actually graduate and pass the exit exam to participate in their high school graduation ceremony.

Newsflash: Self-esteem will be truly attained in only one way – the way people accomplished it until decided otherwise years ago – by earning it.

We appear to be surrounded by excellence when we look in parking lots and kids’ bedrooms. “My Child is a Special Student” bumper stickers adorn minivans and SUVs and participation trophies and ribbons line walls.

Our culture is developing a built-in notion that self-esteem is a function of praise, outside recognition, and staying “positive.” Actually, that’s wrong. Self-esteem is a function of the self-realization of an enthusiastic struggle to attain a goal, an important part of which is making mistakes, and rising from those mistakes to accomplish an objective.

Some of the most positive, admirable, and happiest people I know are those that have risen like a Phoenix from the ashes of defeat. The realists.

Some “experts” believe that it is the parents’ (and teachers’) job to build a “positive self-image” and saying something negative like “no” and “can’t” is to be shunned. This can actually be hampering by cutting the kid off from vital information that will lead to good decisions. A much better goal is an accurate self-image. With accuracy as a goal, we keep our eye on the right ball. Mistakes are tools for learning – not indicators of poor ability. Defeat and not always winning is a part of life.

Pursuit of goals that are central to one’s needs, values, and interests builds self-confidence and makes one successful; not never-ending praise of trivial acts.

I’m not going to get all Vince Lombardi with “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” or Dale Earnhardt’s “Second place is just the first place loser,” but for the real life of adulthood, we should teach kids to be mentally tough, to learn that somebody wins and somebody loses, to take criticism, to experience failure and then get back up to recover.

Going after something with a will and a willingness to persevere through setbacks and learning along the way produces positive results, self-esteem, and maybe even an Olympic medal.

Richard Paloma is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at or by calling 847-3021.