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The Self Esteem Trophy

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Editors note:

Did you ever have an opinion that seemed to be way out of the mainstream among your peer group and think "I'm going to write about that one of these days" but never get around to it? If you write a blog you probably have. On the other hand, since 99% of you don't write blogs it's a stupid question.

I have scores of great ideas for blog posts that have never turned into a readable, coherent piece. Okay, that's probably true for most of the ones I did write.

In the case of the essay below I'm glad I never got around to it because our regular contributor Seth did such a bang up job on the topic that I think he deserves a trophy for writing it. Or maybe just for participating in this blog. Anyway, in a really bad sports metaphor, he hit a home run.- Grant Davies

The Great Participation Trophy Debate
by Seth

Those for participation trophies think it's good for self-esteem. Those against say it doesn’t prepare kids to deal with failure.

I have a third view to consider: We put too much emphasis on youth sports.

Why do we care so much about the life lessons of youth sports and not so much about life lessons learned from other childhood endeavors, like playing video games?

Has anyone ever argued that the high trial-and-error failure rate in video games hurts a child's self-esteem? No. Has anyone argued that winning or losing a video game helps kids deal with failure? No.

Yet, we all instinctively know a simple truth about video games: The more a kid plays them, the better he will get.

Play your kid in her favorite video game and she'll wipe the floor with you. That's because she has more trial-and-error experience at it than you.

That experience came with no pressure and no stakes. She didn't have coaches and parents calling out their every mistake from a sideline. If she lost a game, she just started over, tried a different approach and eventually learned what works.

Yet, we don't translate that instinct to youth sports. Parents and coaches hope for mastery, without recognizing how little time the child has had to master it, especially in unstructured, low pressure, low stakes ways.

Youth sports in the U.S. use to be viewed by parents more like video games are now. In some countries, they still are. Guys I play soccer with, who came to the U.S. from South America and Europe, tell me they spent a great deal of time playing soccer in their home countries and their parents nagged them to do something more productive, just like how U.S. parents nag their kids to put down the video games.

When I was a kid, the way we learned sports was different than today. It was a lot more like how kids these days learn to play video games -- lots of low pressure, low stakes play. Why? Because parents didn't care as much about sports then.

We had much more unstructured play where we played with family and friends. We played more often with older and younger kids, the older ones taught us the tricks of the trade, then we passed those on to younger kids.

We got creative and made up our own games and rules, a lot of times to help compensate for imbalances of playing with different ages and abilities.

The ratio of time spent in low pressure, low stakes unstructured play to the high pressure, organized play was much higher than today.

I played a lot of driveway basketball, mainly because I got bored watching I Love Lucy reruns. I won no basketball scholarships, nor was I scouted by the NBA and I'm usually the last picked at just about any pickup game.

But, if I went to a country where they don't grow up playing driveway basketball, the locals may be as amazed with my unconscious fade-away jumpers as I am with the soccer skills my friends from Europe and South America display.

Even when we played organized teams as kids, it wasn't a major event. Every parent didn't go to every game. Often, parents took turns carting the kids to the game. We often didn't have large crowds to witness our losses and we didn't get ear fulls on the ride home for the mistakes we made in the game. Nor do I remember getting snacks.

And, that was okay. Playing was more for us kids and less about pleasing parents and grandparents. They just wanted us to stay in school and out of trouble. We weren't worried about college scholarships, going pro or being sports prodigies.

I think that's the major thing that has changed. Now, sports is more about the parents. You know who I am talking about. Raise your hand if you or someone you know has mentioned to fellow adults that your kid plays a sport for a "competitive club".

If you have a strong stance on the participation trophy debate, it may be a sign that you care about youth sports more than is healthy. Think about why you care more about that than you do your child's video game or Lego building achievements.


A Saner Way to Collect Taxes

Tax day is always a good time to get everyone's attention momentarily so you can present ideas for a better way to collect taxes. For purposes of this post we won't be addressing what the legitimate use of those tax dollars should be.

 Dan Mitchell of the Cato Institute has made several videos in the past to extol the virtues of eliminating our insanely complex and distortional tax code and replacing it with a sane alternative.

Whatever I could write about this subject would be just a tad less understandable and compelling than his presentation so I'll let him do the explaining. (Okay, it's more than a tad less, but I like to delude myself into thinking I have something to add.)

Dan's post today on his own blog, International Liberty, is well worth your time. It has a trillion great links to interesting stuff about how we are getting screwed. (A trillion? Why yes, I use govt. accounting methods.)       -- Grant Davies