Athletes playing to win or just cashing in?

Jesse Gomez

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Do you play to win? No? Then as far as I’m concerned, why even show up. 

In 2002, the now famous quote, “you play to win the game”, was uttered by then New York Jets head coach Herm Edwards—he responded to a question on if his team was still trying to win games—even though their season outcome was already determined?

As I hoped any great coach would react, Edwards outraged by the question profoundly asked why anyone in their right mind would play a sport unless they intended to not only succeed at it, but expect win each time they played. 

To that I say, Amen Herm, Amen.

Unfortunately, today sports have been molded to cater to a softer mentality that has creeped into our everyday societal norms. The idea that constant affirmation and coddling of our youth will ensure they grow up with self-esteem and confidence is misguided and wrong.

We are doing our youth a disservice and setting them up to fail.

This so-called new and improved parenting has now started to infiltrate sports—to the extent that kids are being rewarded with 12th place trophies—in other words, participation trophies.

Pittsburg Steelers legend, James Harrison said it best, “I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe they are entitled to something just because they tried their best”. 

If I’ve learned anything from my many years between the lines in various sports, it’s that adult-hood mirrors competitive sports and competition. Because of this we must stop giving awards to kids for being average.

 When playing sports there is always someone lined up across from you trying to beat you—take the satisfaction of winning away from you and claim it for themselves. In the real-world the same holds true. 

If I show up to a job interview unprepared and underwhelming to the people on my interview panel I can promise you that they aren’t going to comfort me after and reward me with the job just because I tried “my best” or even more likely not my best. It’s time to rid our youth sports of fake awards that will only hurt our young minds later on.

We are setting dangerous precedence for soon to be adults that everyone is a winner, and everyone deserves confirmation for just being present. 

Star athletes such as Kobe Bryant and Bryce Harper seem to understand the dangers of these new norms. Harper, a millennial mind you echoed fellow pro, Harrison when he told a large group of ten-year-olds that don’t listen to people that say losing is ok, first place only. 

I understand that not every kid will be the next face on the Wheaties box, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have the same mentality that those pros have. 

Kids are impressionable, they absorb what we not only tell them, but show. We owe it to them to teach them to play the game right. 

There is a reason that sports were designed to reward the top three performers—not the entire field of participants. The best things in life are earned, never given. Careers are no different and just like sports when you finish outside the top three your interviewer isn’t sending you home with a participation ribbon. 

Pushing one’s self to be the best, even though you may not always come in first will prepare us for the certain ups and downs that are awaiting us in the real-world. 

In my mind, it’s a simple concept. If you put in the work to be the best, you will be successful. If you don’t, then maybe you’ll get lucky and someone will hand you the job of your dreams, or maybe not.  

My coaches and parents, especially my father taught me at a young age that failing, or losing is ok, but not giving it everything I had, each time was not.

Now that I’m older I am able to appreciate the message that was engrained in my mind, “winning is everything”. 

If we raise winners on the field, we will see winners when they grow up, a simple, yet proven concept that is trying to be eradicated with mass produced trophies and the falsity that trying or showing up is enough to be successful.