I spent 18 hours at an invitational track meet this weekend. Most of my children’s races lasted less than 70 seconds. That gives a guy a lot of time to think.
My youngest daughter, however, competes in the 1500 meter run and it takes her considerably longer than the 70 seconds. As I was watching her and anticipating her result, I began reflecting on what I had seen in the previous four 1500M heets. At the younger ages, there is almost always a child who is considerable behind the rest of the runners. My daugheter is one of those. She is the smallest in her age group and is cute as hell. And while she competes in with girls in the same age division, she is not in the same league.
The winner of her “bantam” division ran the 1500M in 5:37.26. That’s an impressive time for someone who can’t be more than 9 years old. My daughter is 8 and finished 16th, dead last in the second heat. Her time of 9:31.81 was almost two and a half minutes behind the runner who finished 15th. As you can imagine, for most of the her last lap she was running alone. As she came to the final 100 yards, the crowd cheered as loudly for her as they did the first place finisher. I cheered too. She tries hard, she’s tiny, and boy is she cute. (That’s her finishing in the photo. Yes, I’m biased.)
In the midst of her race, I had a conversation with a close friend of ours, Eukay Chukwumerije. I told her I wondered about how the ensuing applause for her “effort” would ultimately impact my daughter, and how it might be impacting all of the kids that received cheers that day – cheers for simply giving it some level of effort, yet finishing dead last. She and her husband are from Nigeria and she shared with me their surprise when they learned at their oldest daughters first “awards” assembly in elementary school that the culture here was quite different from the culture in Nigeria. “Everyone seemed to get an award,” Eukay said. Her daughter had received an award for “effort.” They didn’t understand why awards were being given for effort. If you’ve ever attended one of these assemblies, you’ve likely felt the same way.
For these younger children, I fully understand the motivation to cheer so loudly for their effort. You want them to continue to compete. You don’t want them to just give up and stop trying. But when the same cheers happen for children much older who are finishing dead last, it makes me wonder: what is achieved by applauding effort with the same strength as we applaud results?
The 1500M run was the first event on Sunday. I spent the rest of the day watching the meet with a different eye and realize there are a few things I hope track is teaching my children.
I’m going to share those tomorrow. (edit: here is the follow up: 3 Things I Hope My Children Learn From Track )