Competition is a fact of life, but should there be losers in the
church? And should children be purposely targeted so they
First, let me say that I'm not against standards or
qualifications. And I understand contests where "the better person"
wins. Often it's necessary -- and reasonable -- to give the most
qualified and gifted person the part, the job, or the honor.
Sometimes we must test a child or an adult to evaluate his or her
level of competence.
I just wonder if there's a better way.
HERE COMES THE JUDGE
"There are no losers here," one children's worker instructed her
children as they commenced another musical tryout. But there were
losers. Lots of them. Every child who tried out and failed to land
the part technically "lost." They lost their courage to take risks.
They lost self-confidence. They lost face in front of peers.
Unfortunately, many children leave tryouts damaged, defeated,
discouraged, and disillusioned.
Tryouts may damage mostly older children who are becoming socially
aware and subject to peer comparisons. Younger children, less
focused on peer evaluations, are more self-confident and willing to
tackle creative risks. You may even notice more younger than older
children at a tryout. Why? Because the older ones have discovered
that it's better to avoid competition than to be embarrassed.
"But we've always been effective with our tryouts," one respected
children's minister told me. "Many of our children are quite
successful performers as teenagers and adults."
And he was right. However, what about the dozens (perhaps
hundreds) of children who weren't winners? Those unfortunate kids
who never sang a solo, said a line, or played third base? Where are
they now? Would they try out for an adult choir? Probably not.
Would they play competitive softball? Not a chance. Would they risk
acting in community theater? Nope.
Children learn what they live and grow into the shoes shaped for
them by parents, teachers, and other significant adults. If those
shoes are pierced by negative experiences, poked with pessimism,
and cracked with criticism, children will eventually walk with a
limp. Tryouts and unnecessary competitions to distinguish "better"
from "best" only create negative experiences for the losers (who
really aren't losers). In the end, tryouts leach optimism, limit
enthusiasm, and choke self-confidence in a child.
Adults view tryouts as opportunities to evaluate talent; kids view
them as contests to influence peers, gain respect, and enhance
self-image. That's why children sometimes cry after tryouts or
consider themselves losers. It's not so much about performing as it
is about the need to belong, have purpose, be accepted, and feel
Ever see children choose teams for schoolyard kickball? The two
best players (pegged by their peers) pick their teams. The better
players are snagged first while the lesser talent wait in the wings
for the finger of placement. Every kid knows there's a picking
order. Different games mean different selections. This elementary
method of selection seems cruel. Yet even the worst players still
get to play. Even if picked dead last, every child participates.
This is quite a contrast to the high-pressure, pick-or-lose tryouts
run by adults and common to churches, schools, and community
In a tryout, not everyone makes the team. Not every child lands a
speaking part or sings a solo. The hidden message is that adults
are more concerned with success than self-image, the performance
over the person, and winning rather than learning. Everyone knows
children who never miss a practice and work hard to improve their
skills but rarely play in games, while star players can skip those
same practices and start every contest.
Kids are wise to such situations. They learn the hidden myths
(from adults) that talent is more important than hard work. And
yet, most adults know life's success is due more to diligent effort
than talent. Even overnight successes are years in the making. Life
is filled with talented nobodies.