I distinctly remember running. It was sprinting, actually, and I was feeling a rush of adrenaline I hadn’t ever had the privilege of experiencing on the soccer field before. I heard my coach shouting, and I interpreted it as encouragement. I only realized how sorely mistaken I was after I kicked the soccer ball into the goal. I did the most unforgivable thing one can do on a soccer field: score a goal for the other team.
One might imagine that this story was pulled from one of my first years of soccer. I regret to inform you that it comes from my fifth year of playing and regret even more so that I played soccer for two years after that. I only made one other goal throughout my entire soccer career. I was so desperate to have some kind of statistic that I counted goals I assisted. I still remember the number: three.
One might also wonder why I continued playing soccer for so long. My answer is simply that no one had the audacity to tell me that I was absolutely awful at it. My reaction time was extremely delayed, I was out of shape, I often missed practices due to my artistic endeavors and, yet, I was determined not to quit. Unfortunately, none of my efforts mattered. I was always on the losing team. In my last two years of playing, I was on a travel team that managed to tie or lose every single game. I was never on a good soccer team. I was never a good athlete. I was never able to show off on the field, but I was, however, able to show off my trophy shelf that had seven soccer trophies sitting on it.
I was a total failure when it came to soccer, but I was rewarded for my failure. I wasted seven years of my life doing something that made me miserable because I was encouraged to never give up and convinced I would be good at it someday. I could’ve spent those seven years taking a dance class or taking piano lessons every Thursday night. Instead, I wasted my time playing soccer.
I experienced what can only be described as a crime against American youth; I was brought up in a generation where everyone got to be the winner. Often times there wouldn’t be a solo awarded in chorus because no one felt comfortable telling the other kids that someone was better than the rest, games in gym would end when both teams tied, and jeopardy review games would result in neither team winning. Even if there was a clear winner, all of the participants were rewarded with candy or trophies. When everyone wins, nobody wins. Additionally, when no one wins, the other competitors have nothing to gauge their ability with. I should not have been encouraged to play a sport that I was bad at for seven years.
The worst part of teaching young kids that everybody is a winner is that it sets them up with unrealistic expectations for what life is actually like. My heart broke in my last year of soccer when a kid on my team tried to explain the positions to me because he thought it was my first year playing. It made me feel awful and I cried for hours, but I am incredibly grateful to that kid. He was the only person who ever had the nerve to say, “You suck at this. You should do something else with your time.”
The world is filled with winners and losers because that is life. Raising a child to believe that they will always get a participation trophy is inappropriate and morally wrong. If no one ever fails they cannot learn to be successful and, sometimes, people are simply very bad at something. If people are never told that they are bad at something they will continue to make fools of themselves doing the thing that they are bad at. No one should ever get to the point where they score a goal for the other team.