“You’re Good Enough, You’re Smart Enough . . . ”

Listening to sports talk radio is one of my favorite driving activities. This morning on 1360AM they were talking about the recent trend of not keeping score during children’s sporting events. We had an Upward Basketball League at our church this past spring where they don’t keep score for games unless you’re in 4th or 5th graders. “We don’t need to be putting that kind of pressure on the kids” is the common defense of this “Everybody Wins” approach to youth sports. I guess this trend of not keeping-score has been born out of the influence of child psychologists who want to strengthen the self-esteem of children. This is the opposite of when I grew up and we kept score as early as the t-ball years. I always knew when we won and when we lost. And I’ve dealt with it well over the years. It’s not like we were abused by the coaches when we lost; either way we still got orange slices and Cokes. Rock on.

As I wrote in a posting a few days ago, I didn’t discover athletic coordination until my college years [my constantly bringing this up makes me wonder if I’m obsessed with overcoming my unathletic past]. Because I had no skilz [word] I was always last in the batting order and sat the bench until we were up five runs going into the last inning. I pretty much knew by the time I hit junior high that God hadn’t blessed me with the athletic abilities to be a superstar. Yet if I had grown up under the current regime of positive encouragement sports, it would’ve been completely different. I probably would have batted in a spot in the line-up that I was not worthy of. Even while striking out and dropping fly balls, I would have heard encouragement “unlucky bounce there, Steve,” or “Good effort! You try so hard!” Strengthened by this false hope, I might have insisted on pursuing my dream of becoming a professional baseball player. Now at some point, someone would have to be honest with me and say, “Steve, you suck.” Then, one of two things would’ve happened: 1) I would walk away dejected, crushed that I never knew how bad I really was or 2) I would wade into denial and proclaim that those stupid coaches have no idea what they’re talking about.

All of this brings me, oddly enough, to American Idol. You wonder why this show is so popular despite having the tendency of being rather cheesy. Perhaps American Idol is so alluring because it’s returning realism to our society. I usually enjoy watching the show at the very beginning of the season when they do the auditions. Like most of you, I don’t give a rip about the good singers, but tune in to see the horrible ones. These people strut into their audition divaishly [new word I created meaning “diva-like”] proclaiming that God gave them the voice of an angel; when they’re finished, you’ve concluded that there are definitely voices in their head, but not from God. It never fails that someone says to Simon Cowell, “Well, people have been telling me for years how awesome my voice is, so you’ve got to be wrong you . . . [insert appropriate curse word here].” Although he comes off as cruel, many of us resonate with the sentiment expressed by Simon because at least he’s truthful. And maybe there’s the problem with American society today: there are too many Paula Abduls in the world today [if my teenage-self ever knew that my adult-self would write such a blasphemous statement about Paula Abdul, there would be a fight].

It’s not brutal to tell an older child that they’re not quite as good as they think they are; in fact, it can be downright helpful. Otherwise, when they hit the real world and an over-inflated self-esteem rules their consciousness, how will they be able to handle rejection? Can you imagine when these kids, who’ve been told for years that they’re the best thing since sliced bread, hit their twenties and can’t get a job? Rejection is difficult enough to handle when you already know you’re not good enough. Listen, I really love kids and you want to see them succeed. But setting them up for future disappointments by “blowing smoke” is hurting them more than helping them. We should still encourage them, hug them, and tell them that they’re loved, but keep the praise realistic. And by the way, from a minister’s standpoint, the gospel has nothing to do with self-esteem. If you really examine Scripture, you’ll read nothing about us needing to develop our self-esteems; you’ll actually discover the opposite- that we should consider ourselves less than we actually are as we follow Jesus. So if you’ve adopted a “health and wealth-based Christianity” [see Joel Olsteen and many other Pentecostal leaders] you might be missing the point a little bit. Losing is a part of life.

And start keeping score again. We need to teach kids how to lose. If you can’t learn how to lose by playing sports, then where else do you learn it? To this day you see grown men playing sports who don’t know how to lose. They throw temper-tantrums [and objects] when the game doesn’t turn out their way. How sad is that? At this rate, when all these kids who’ve been reared on this no-score nonsense finally grow up, church softball leagues will become killing fields. Our society will crumble to pieces! Not one of us will survive! “Rivers and seas boiling! The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together . . . mass hysteria!”

OK, maybe that’s a tad overdramatic, but at least I got to throw in my favorite Ghostbusters quote to end this post.