by Sharon Tay, West Sports Co-op Co-ordinator

I was leading a discussion where my boys were part of a sports group where they competed in a friendly game of archery earlier. I asked a question, “Is it easier for the winning team or losing team to say they had a good game?” The voices rang loud and clear and the unanimous answer was obvious, “The winning team!”

Everyone knows that it is always easy when the going is good. That is precisely why I was afraid. I was afraid that early success will give kids a big head. Not that we intended to set up traps for our children to fall into, but these things, like it or not, come. Yet, to be always be telling the child to go for the big win seems presumptuous early on in life. There is a difference between being a winner and winning. We can be a winner when we put in our best and this is despite that our best may not come in forms of gold medals in this dog eat dog world we live in.

In the context of Singapore, we have seen only too many trying to beat the education system. With Direct school entry  (DSA), one could always justify by sending the child to specialised training, making sure he or she receives medals upon medals in order to showcase an impressive portfolio so that the child may enter the school of (parent’s) choice. Often it also means elite schools, so children get to access better quality resources and mix with the upper echelon class of the society.

So is winning more important than being a winner? Society places so much emphasis on confidence-building that we misjudge what self-worth looks like.  Public speaking, swimming, dancing, mathematics, story-telling, chess, music etc. You name it! We have every organisation which specialises in confidence-building, a.k.a competition.

The Bible is not against competition. I quote, “1 Corinthians 9:25-27 New Living Translation (NLT) 25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26 So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.”

A lifestyle of disciplined living is exhorted. The danger is when we place a winner on the altar and when a child’s self-worth is defined by the medals.

I reflected upon a child’s malleable heart in their growing up years. When we ask ourselves what do we seek to build in our children’s lives? The answer will always come up clear. For us, it is a child who knows who he belongs to and how much he is loved.  That the child will grow up knowing his value is not based on whether he succeed or fail. Like it or not, the system in which we are all in is shouting at the top of its lungs to only value the ones with most medals or those who are able to sit quietly and listen. Like it or not, the system will always reward those who have more resources to get ahead. I quote the words of a sociologist, Yep You Yenn,

“If those higher in the social hierarchy, ahead of the pack, refuse to pause and change their ways, the call to extend assistance to low income or to ‘level up’ will continue to ring hollow.”

Which is easier to do? To bring up a child with a winning attitude or a winner. It is not difficult to answer.

At the group discussion, I could see the son’s disappointment as tears welled up and then as if with resolved, it subsided. I asked him later at home if he felt disappointed.  He said in his own words, “Its okay lah, I still had a good game and I hi-5 my opponents.”