Why a win-first attitude sacrifices valuable skills
At Monday assemblies, the school announces athletic victories, art awards, science bowl wins and everything in between. Special assemblies showcase polished performances but commonly do not feature the lower level classes. Many times the first question after someone comes back from a competition is “Did you win?” While the school is great at highlighting our successes, unfortunately, it seems like people are more focused on results and winning than on the process itself. Students often say quotes like “Second is the first loser” or “Winning is everything,” but these joking comments speak to a poor attitude that exists on campus.
The issue is not just too strong of a focus on results, but setting the bar for success too high. When winning becomes the expectation, such success feels like simply meeting a basic standard instead of feeling like a grand accomplishment. Anything less than first can be seen as disappointing and unfulfilling, which hurts students’ attitudes and discourages people from trying new activities. Students lose confidence because they do not get results they wanted. If they prioritize winning and do not perform as well as they hoped, they may feel like their effort went to waste. In addition, a focus on winning teaches students to do what they are good at and discourages them from branching out and trying new activities. This sends the wrong message. It can also teach students to stop pushing themselves once they’re good enough to win their league or competition.
This keeps students out of activities because the pressure to win often creates schedules that are very demanding or inflexible. Students do not have time to do multiple activities and are pushed to choose one before they know what they want to do. It appears this attitude can hurt team morale and make activities less enjoyable. When anything less than a win is viewed as unsuccessful, it can be hard to stay motivated, and it makes students feel bad about themselves. Even after a team wins, the process can be unenjoyable and the result is unfulfilling in the long run.
This goes against the school’s fundamental principles and hurts what is truly valuable about these activities. Hard work is a pillar of the school, but students feel poorly when they think that their best is inadequate. Additionally, the community’s focus on results strips away a lot of the meaning behind an activity. When a team wins a championship, how valuable is it if they feel like they are pushed harder than they want to be and enjoy the activity less? On the flip side, if a team does not win, but the players have a good time and bond with their teammates, is that really a failure? Although being good at an activity is valuable, the experience on the team is much more important. Most students play on a sports team at some point in high school; however, only a handful go on to play in college or professionally. Similarly, few students who do the musical intend to be an actor, and some activities such as debate or yearbook do not have direct professional equivalents. However, these activities teach valuable portable skills. For instance, sports help keep athletes healthy and teach sportsmanship, teamwork, and strategy. By pushing students out of an activity, lowering self-confidence and focusing on results, many of these benefits are lost.
This competitive attitude exists in the classroom well. Students ask each other grades to compare and sneak looks at their peers’ scores. Some have even pulled tests out of each other’s hands. When a student is in class, the expectation of getting the best grades takes away from a student’s ability to actually enjoy learning. This competitive attitude can make students who try their best and can only get a B feel bad about themselves when they watch their friends complain about low A’s. Focus on grades makes students who have different strengths feel discouraged. Students think that some people are just born better at certain activities and thus develop fixed mindsets, which discourage them from trying and make them feel as if they will never get better. When students focus on being the best, it is harder to admit when they need help. However, mistakes on tests give them feedback and can teach them their problem areas. They also teach students the value of meeting with teachers and other important skills to help them navigate throughout the rest of their life.
As a community, we need to begin to recognize the value of hard work and process over results. Instead of just announcing team victories, we can share practice schedules and how the team developed over the season as well. While many activities should consider refocusing their goals, there should also be options for activities that are less intense and have better practice or rehearsal schedules to encourage more participation. Hopefully, the new AP limits and non-boosted GPA will begin to decrease the competitive attitude, but the community must continue to emphasize the process instead. Students must stop asking others about test scores and other results, and they should instead applaud their peers’ hard work.