Chickens Coming Home to Roost

One of my daughters is almost 12 now. She is active in gymnastics and has been on and off for many years.

When she was much smaller, I would say five or six years ago, she was in a gymnastics “show”. It was basically a prelude to real competitions, where the children do simple techniques in front of an audience – moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas.

At the end of that show every child was allowed to step atop the podium and receive a first place medal. This could be a Madison thing to make kids feel good (we are just a bit liberal here from what I have heard) but I have no idea if they do this elsewhere.

I told my wife at that time the following:

“This sets up unrealistic expectations for the future. Most of those kids sucked and they still got a first place photo and medal, and have a great feeling. The kids that worked harder were screwed.”

Fast forward to today. My daughter made nationals for gymnastics, fortunately hosted here in Madison. She only had to beat one other kid to qualify to the national meet. She has been getting absolutely dusted this week in every event by kids from all around the nation. Of course we are dealing with a very browbeaten kid.

I told her that I didn’t feel sorry for her. I said that she clearly needs to work harder and doesn’t deserve to be the champion if she doesn’t have the skills. I also told her that it was great that she was able to qualify for nationals and have the privilege to compete – many kids didn’t stick with it.

I think that this will be good for her in the future.

It is my personal opinion that children are far too coddled. Maybe I am an asshole of a father. I don’t think I am.

30 thoughts on “Chickens Coming Home to Roost”

  1. Competitive sports must remain a bastion of meritocracy. I am 39 years old and I’m just now accepting the fact that I’ll never play major league baseball.

  2. My kids didn’t make it to the level your daughter achieved. But I have said pretty much the same thing to my kids at all levels along the way. And even here in Texas the kids have been awarded trophies for just showing up.

    My wife gets really pissed when I talk about the trophies I’ve won for paying the entry fee.

    My beer league hockey trophies… Those were earned!

  3. Ha no congrats needed Mike.

    Jason in LA glad you are finally coming to grips with that fact that you will never be a MLB player.

    Here in Madison, it is a strange dichotomy between all of the liberal feel good lefties and the Badger football team that has to excel and smash their opponents above all else. I have a feeling that football in general will be under attack by feel good folks before long.

  4. “I told her that I didn’t feel sorry for her. I said that she clearly needs to work harder and doesn’t deserve to be the champion if she doesn’t have the skills. I also told her that it was great that she was able to qualify for nationals and have the privilege to compete – many kids didn’t stick with it. ”

    you did her a favor by pointing out that she maybe ok in this skill but that her passion didn’t carry over to a commitment. besides women’s gymnastics is only good til 18? maybe. learn from the experience.

  5. Sooner or later they enter the School of Hard Knocks. That seems to be prevalent Dan. I would watch a baseball game by the “Pee Wee ” league – courtesy of some young parents I know – and until they are 6-7 they don’t keep score.

    Well the adults think they don’t keep score ;-)

  6. ” I have a feeling that football in general will be under attack by feel good folks before long.”

    It began already. What do you think the concussion hysteria is about ?

    If my father had come to a baseball game when I was in school, I would have fainted dead away. My son was sailing (our family sport) in a junior regatta when he was about 7. I decided to go watch. He got so befuddled when he saw me, he got lost.

    He’s now 47 and has crewed in national championships. Sailing, like golf, is a sport you can be good at until you are almost as old as I am (I’ve had to quit both).

  7. I should add that while disappointed, my daughter did lose with good sportsmanship, which is more important to me than the actual results. Other kids that lost were crying and sobbing and making a scene of themselves at the competition.

  8. “Competitive sports must remain a bastion of meritocracy.”

    ***The following does not apply to the Gentleman or his daughter, but addresses meritocracy.***

    Well if it’s the American Meritocracy they’ll need to have organized systematic cheating with the coaches and staff as the ringleaders. Top prizes need to be divided up first by Daddy’s net worth, then alumni birthright, then race and gender. Also have accountants and lawyers school the prospective Meritos on embezzling the teams funds, kickbacks on team equipment purchases, and the etiquette of ratting first when caught. There’s an art to the last part–Ratettiqute- it can only be passed on by proper breeding and instruction. And Lawyering.


    The above does not apply to the Gentleman or his daughter, but to Meritocracy, hereafter referred to as “Meritos.”

    And yes they’re coming for football.

  9. Dan,

    Can’t remember where I first came across this:

    “Mothers teach their children to deal with people. Fathers teach their children to deal with life.”

    Seems to me you’re doing a good job as a father.

  10. Perhaps football’s imminent vilification and the Political Classes clear predatory intent upon it -See Sen Durbin, D, ILL – will be the spark that fires “fundamental change.” I’m more mundane and thought it would be our money collapsing, but I’m also somewhat romantic about the mundane and people defending core interests. It would be in keeping with our society’s valued merits that it would be peripheral matters that call us to the barricades.

  11. I think that whoever is coming after football is going to have a very difficult time. Incredible amounts of money involved, along with passionate fans will make it a tough slog. But stranger things have happened.

  12. Dan, I used to tell my son and daughter that my job as a father was to prepare them for life as adults, not to be their “buddy”, and that they would get the truth from me and not just what they wanted to hear. Sounds like this is also your philosophy. Stick to it. As they become adults you will be amazed and gratified when they come back to you and say “thank you”. Personally, I was always amazed that the older I got, the smarter my father got. To have my children feel that way was my goal as a parent.

  13. Perhaps football’s imminent vilification and the Political Classes clear predatory intent upon it -See Sen Durbin, D, ILL…

    Whoa, did I miss something – is that cur Durbin flapping his gums over football now?

  14. Durbin is leading the effort to “reform” football to eliminate the risk of head injuries. next will be the onslaught of ambulance chasers on high schools and colleges. their ultimate goal is to replace football with purse-fights.

  15. You’re not an asshole. Better your daughter learns this lesson now than after entering the job market and professional life.

  16. The “everybody gets a medal” model that pervades many youth activities is especially pernicious because it contains two other lies hidden within the obvious one.

    The obvious lie is:

    Everyone should expect to excel at anything they want with only moderate effort

    …which is bad enough. But to the degree that kids (and possibly parents) internalize it, we are also implying:

    Not only is your worth and acceptability as a person dependent on your skill at this activity, but it’s an all or nothing proposition. You’re either a star or a loser.


    Nothing is worth doing unless you can excel at it technically. It doesn’t matter how much you enjoy gymnastics, or golf, or watercolor; you shouldn’t play if you can’t WIN.

    In my view, this takes two of the most dysfunctional trends in American culture, which would otherwise be incompatible, and combines them into a sort of unholy alliance.

  17. An aside: something seems to be wrong with comments formatting. Italics appear to be stuck on for these last few posts.

  18. Sorry, everyone – let’s see if that works.

    Oh, and screw Durbin. He’s the second biggest pestilence Illinois has sprung on this country.

  19. Two advantages of golf and sailing as sports are that the rules are strictly enforced. I’ve known a couple of people banned for life from sailboat racing after they were caught cheating. One was the husband of Marge Schott, the oafish Cincinnati baseball team owner. His money didn’t help when he was caught cheating on the measurement of his boat. Another I know of was turned in by a member of his crew from running the engine at night when he thought they were asleep.

    Golf is similar. I’ve seen a pro call a penalty on himself that no one had noticed.

    Both seem to be sports for wealthy people but most sailors I know who race are actually of quite modest means and sail on other people’s boats. The owner is expected to pay the bills and keep quiet.

  20. Good point MK, those sports are super sticklers for rules. And that makes those sports that much tougher, because it doesn’t make too much sense to cheat too much outside of the venue with performance enhancing drugs. The sports that count on judging are inherently able to be rigged, and I would not be surprised if some parent wasn’t doing that very thing right now at the gymnastics nationals.

    For anyone concerned, she is having a better day today, middle of the pack instead of getting blown out of the gym. I will take her out for ice cream tonight and will tell her how proud I am that she lost with grace and dignity.

    I am honestly much more proud of that than if she would have won the whole competition.

  21. Sooner or later children need to learn that being a big fish in a little pond doesn’t necessarily translate into being a big fish in the ocean. I had to learn it. My uncle told me that when he was a child, his father would tell him, “There is always someone better than you.”

  22. I was lucky with my kid. He was born, apparently, with a recognition that an undeserved reward was not worth having. I recall him in pre-school at his school’s athletic competition. He was crap and was among the slowest of the runners. When they tried handing him his award, he put his hands behind his back and refused to take it.

    Now, some 22 years later, he’s a libertarian, working in one of the most liberal town in the country. He has days when he’s undecided between killing some of his peers or looking for passage off the planet, but he’s managing just fine.

  23. I’m sure Dan is on the right side of the line, but I’ve noticed something in watching the coaches and other parents at my son’s baseball games.

    I don’t see a whole lot of the “everybody wins” thing and I’m glad of it. However, I do see a lot of coaches and parents and a few kids who can’t seem to tell the difference between “He’s better at that than you.” or “That team had a great day and you didn’t do as well, better practice more.” and “You suck. You’re terrible.”

    One of the things I want my kids to learn is that good people lose sometimes. Good people make mistakes sometimes. The thing is to understand it, accept it, and deal with it.

    One of the coaches likes to recognize unconventional stats or accomplishments which has some “everybody” wins aspect to it, and he’s taken some heat from some parents and coaches over it. I don’t think he’s out of line. He doesn’t hand out first place to everybody. He does give serious and not so serious awards for things like “most walks” “most improved player” “leader in foul ball home runs” that kind of thing.

    He also is able to coach the kids in specific and meaningful ways, where his critics seem to believe that the high art of coaching is to scream really loudly things like, “I want to see you get that ball!!” or, “hit the damn thing next time or your running laps after the game!!” Those guys are useless.


  24. While I don’t often “practice what I preach” failure should no be anything to be ashamed of – but used –
    I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.
    Thomas Edison

  25. My kids gravitated toward skills that clearly demonstrated the effect of hard work but also inborn limits – ballet, cello/piano, swimming. Discipline & humility. Girls’ soccer would have led to team skills, but the arts have their advantages. I didn’t bring them up as Dan has – competitive approaches have never been emphasized. On the other hand, the “earned” nature of accomplishments was.

    Useful: Michael Barone’s Hard America, Soft America. Did a series of posts on it a few years ago – and especially enjoyed applying it to the junior college experience.
    Arthur Brooks (of AEI) The Road to Freedom. Haven’t read it, but on Book TV one of his emphases was the different reactions to earned and unearned success (both in self-worth and judging the “fairness” of the treatment of others). Earned success makes us feel fulfilled as unearned does not. (surprise)

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