“Our greatest glory is not in never falling,
but in rising every time we fall.”
In the book Mindset by Carol Dweck, she shares a story about Elizabeth, a young gymnast who had recently just started the sport and on her way to her first competition expressed to her dad how her goal was to win several blue ribbons. After the match, the young kid was highly disappointed that she did not earn one ribbon.
Dweck writes that after Elizabeth left the match she wanted to know from her dad what happened?
Here is where I find the parallel with softball parents who find themselves in a juxtaposition when they take their kid to a tryout and the kid doesn’t make it or when their child plays on a team that is competitive and the kid doesn’t play as much as the parent wants. Unlike Elizabeth’s dad the softball parent struggles on what to tell their kid.
The book goes on to ask which of 5 things they list would you do as the parent in this situation? 1. Tell Elizabeth you thought she was the best. 2. Tell her she was robbed of a ribbon that was rightfully hers. 3. Reassure her that gymnastics is not that important. 4. Tell her she has the ability and she will surely win next time. 5. Tell her she didn’t deserve to win.
I am sure most of you will pick what the experts say is the right answer, number 5? See there is a strong message in our society about how to boost children’s self-esteem, and a main part of that message is as Dweck writes to “protect them from failure” or blame the coach, sport or the process. While this may help with the immediate problem of a child’s disappointment, it can only be harmful in the long run.
Here is how Dweck explains each of the responses: 1. Elizabeth was not the best, tell her an offer her recipe for how to improve. 2. Never place blame on others, she will grow up blaming others. 3. She should value gymnastics even if she is not great at it. 4. May be the most dangerous according to Dweck because ability does not automatically take us to where we want to go. 5. Telling her she didn’t deserve to win seems hard-hearted, but we need to say it in a different way but we need to say it.
Here’s what her dad actually said: “Elizabeth, I know how you feel. It is so disappointing to have your hopes up and to perform your best but not to win. But you know, you haven’t really earned it yet. There were many girls there who’ve been in gymnastics longer than you and have worked a lot harder than you. If this is something you really want, then it’s something you’ll really have to work for.”
He also let Elizabeth know that if she wanted to do gymnastics purely for fun, that was just fine. But if she wanted to excel in the competitions, more was required.
Her father not only told her the truth, but also taught her how to learn from her failures and do what it takes to succeed in the future. He sympathized deeply with her disappointment, but he did not give her a phony boost that would only lead to further disappointment.
When our kids experience disappointment and we make excuses or blame others, we give our kids power away and we unintentionally teach them that other people have power over them and the ability to decide their fate.