by Thom Van Vleck
Every so often I have this same conversation with Al Myers and Chad Ullom. Since Al and I are pretty conservative and Chad went to the University of Kansas (the liberal bastion of the midwest) Chad likes to make fun of the fact that Al and I give out participation awards. The way Chad sees it is that as conservative guys we should believe in “you get what you earn” and that “only winners get awards”. This goes all the way to how they don’t keep scores in youth sports then everyone gets a trophy at the end of the season. “Everyone is a winner” mentality that some think is leading to the downfall of America.
Now I’m picking on Chad a bit. He’s not really that liberal…at least for a guy that went to KU! But I think he does see it as contradictory that Al and I would believe in the idea you get what you earn then turn around and hand out awards to everyone. The reality is I DON’T HAND OUT AWARDS TO EVERYONE! I never will! You do get what you earn. I also believe in keeping score, winners AND losers, and competition is healthy in all aspects of life.
So how do I believe in all those things and hand out awards to seemingly everyone that comes to my meets? Here’s how I look at it. When I went to boot camp we started with over 80 in my platoon. We ended up graduating 66. We lost almost 20 guys! They got booted out along the way. Some flat out quit, some got booted for not being good enough, I know blew out his knee and was saying he might not recover enough to come back. In the end those that completed the task won the prize: The honor of being called a United States Marine!
We also had a “Top Marine” award. The award went to the guy that did the best. We had a guy Levier. He was the “Honorman” and his award was a meritorious promotion to Lance Corporal, a plaque, and a set of dress blues. At that time you didn’t get dress blues out of bootcamp. You had to buy your own unless you were assigned to a position where wearing the dress blues was part of your job, like and embassy guard. So it was a pretty nice award.
The point is you had the “Overall” winner who was number one getting the top prize. Then you had those that passed the test. They had worked hard and accomplished what others didn’t dare to do or were unable to do for whatever reason. They were all awarded the title of “Marine”. I guess that’s how I feel about those that do what others won’t. They go to the gym, work hard, then have the guts to sign the dotted line and then show up and put it all out there for everyone to see. I would never give an award to someone who didn’t show up (and yes, I had someone ask for an award that didn’t show…..seemed to think his entry fee entitled him). I also only give out ONE award that says “First Place” on it. You better earn it by beating someone. A few years back I had only one person show up for a class. They wanted the first place award I had already made for that group…..NO WAY. Sorry, but you didn’t win because you didn’t beat anyone. So make fun of me if you want. I will continue to award those that choose to succeed.
Now, I’m going to take this one step further. I think we have become a nation so obsessed with winning and being number one being the only acceptable outcome we are becoming a nation of drop outs or “never even tried’s”. I recently talked to someone who runs the amateur and pro strongman meets in the USA. She told me that the number of women competitors has quadrupled in the past few years and she thinks eventually there will be more women than men competing in Strongman. What are we going to do when that happens? Change the name to “Strongwoman”?
The reason she gave is one I think is completely true. She said that guys come in and if they can’t win, they won’t try. They also fear embarrassment and if there’s one event that will make them look bad they won’t try. The women, on the other hand, are ready, willing and able to risk failure for the chance at success. They haven’t been indoctrinated to believe that winning is the only thing in live. Personal success is their focus. They check their ego’s at the door.
So, there you have it. I hand out awards to everyone that completes the task. You win when you work hard and finish the game regardless of who else showed up and how they did that particular day. I have a lot of admiration for the guy that sets several Personal Bests over the guy that “mails it in” and wins. So, the only participation awards I hand out are those that participated in being successful.