Commentary: Raise ‘Em Up Trophy High

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You can’t live in Nashville and not be a country music fan. I mean it might be possible, but why bother? The performers are awesome, the music touches your soul and the lyrics relate to real life.

I am a big Keith Urban and Eric Church fan. I have seen both in concert numerous times. They even recorded one song together: Raise ‘Em Up. One of the lines in the chorus is: “Raise ’em up trophy high.” While I am pretty sure he is discussing an adult beverage, the words got me thinking about our trophy culture. In the trophy culture everyone wins a trophy. Except that isn’t the reality of the cold, hard world.

Simon Sinek beautifully articulates that: “Champions are not the ones who always win races – champions are the ones who get out there and try. And try harder the next time. And even harder the next time. ‘Champion’ is a state of mind. They are devoted. They compete to best themselves as much if not more than they compete to best others. Champions are not just athletes.” I agree with that sentiment. However, I don’t think everyone deserves a trophy just for participating.

Evan Grossman points out that: “Studies have shown that rewarding kids just for participating can have a negative impact, producing a self-obsessed, irresponsible, and unmotivated generation of false achievers.”

I don’t believe that only winners should be recognized. And I will be the first person to tell people I have learned more from my failures, than my victories. The non-winner can be recognized on what he/she has/hasn’t done and learn from not winning.

Carol Dweck, one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation who also happens to be a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University found that kids respond positively to praise; they enjoy hearing that they’re talented, smart and so on. In an article entitled “The Secret to Raising Smart Kids” in Scientific American she wrote: “Many people assume that superior intelligence or ability is a key to success. But more than three decades of research shows that an overemphasis on intellect or talent—and the implication that such traits are innate and fixed—leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unmotivated to learn.”

Children like praise of their innate abilities. However, when unwarranted, they collapse at the first experience of difficulty. More than three decades of research shows that a focus on “process”—not on intelligence or ability—is key to success in school and in life. Dr. Dweck suggested “focusing children on the actions that lead to success. Such process praise may involve commending effort, strategies, focus, persistence in the face of difficulty, and willingness to take on challenges.”

Does everyone need a trophy? Joe Torre probably sums up my opinion best: “Competing at the highest level is not about winning. It’s about preparation, courage, understanding and nurturing your people, and heart. Winning is the result.”

Now turn that into a country song. I bet you will get a Grammy.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

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