Blue for first, red for second, third is white, fourth is yellow and fifth is green. By the time they blow past the primary colors and into the decorator shades of award ribbons, it’s fair to say you probably didn’t exactly excel at whatever it is that you’ve done. Burgundy may, in fact, be the color of shame.
This point was driven home to our 16-year-old.
“So Coach handed us this brown ribbon for placing eighth out of nine teams and we’re like ‘Great. This is literally a ribbon for stinking.’”
He laughed when he said it, showing he took it with the hilarity — and equanimity — that continues to prove we brought home the right baby. I have also proudly saved the wine colored ribbon, because I am still a mom.
Hearing this story, a friend relayed that her very athletic son once stashed a second place plaque in his closet, declaring, “Second place is the first loser.” I disagree, but understand this drive is integral to some.
It’s puzzling on the surface that a society seemingly so bent on giving out participation plaques and ribbons for everything, including showing up and breathing, morphed into a generation of athletes that feel this way.
I once prided myself on how encouraging I was to all young athletes. It was my goal (pun!) to ensure every child felt like a winner. I cannot abide the gasp of disappointment that seems to overcome a crowd when a child fumbles a ball or misses a shot.
While the crowd groaned I could be heard clapping wildly and peppering the air with cheery phrases “nice try!” and “good thought!” were the balm to soothe a disappointed soul.
This lasted until the fateful day when I overhead one young player say “you know you really messed up if Mrs. Seabolt says ‘nice hustle.’” Apparently, I had a “tell.”
As my children have moved through the ranks of competitive athletics it is more difficult to pretend everyone is doing well all of the time. The days of coach referees and no score are behind us now. There are ranks and scores and first and second strings. Most players know all too well where they sit, stand or bat.
I myself have fallen so far from the ranks of cheery good sport as to have had the following exchange with my own child:
Walking away from a hard lost game, my daughter — always a good sport — said cheerily “4-0. That’s not too bad.”
To this I said, as if seized by the devil himself, “4-0 isn’t too bad, but you lost 7-0.”
As soon as the words left my lips I sucked in my breath as if I could recall the stupidity before it hit her ears. I could not.
I can just hear it now. “I don’t recall the million times my mother told me I was amazing but do recall that she once reminded me of how badly we had lost.” That’s good for at least six weeks of high dollar therapy in adulthood.
The inglorious receipt of a brown ribbon notwithstanding, I still believe in telling all small children “good job” and “nice try.” I believe the road to a lifetime of demanding entitlement is not necessarily paved with a pink participation ribbons earned by everyone present at preschool field day. I believe with all my heart anyone who tries deserve applause.
This is especially true if, like me, you play right flank lawn chair on the sideline sitting team (I’m varsity).
It is said that those who can, do. Those who can’t, drive those who can to games. While there we smile, wave and applaud all the ribbons of every color because we love them for doing — and trying too.