Pushing for Equal Success Can Result in Failure
Apparently your child can get benched for being too good, at least if they play youth football in Arkansas like sixth grade Demias Jimerson. Using the Madre Hill rule, so named for the running back who dominated his youth league in the 1980s, the Wilson Intermediate Football League requires that any player who scores three touchdowns, when his team has a 14-point lead, is prohibited from scoring again during that game. How can we develop a country of leaders, innovators, and high achievers when we disallow children to participate at their highest levels?
The Intentions of the Madre Hill Rule and Others Like It
We are living in a society deeply concerned with the emotional well-being of our children. Rules such as the Madre Hill rule strive to ensure a level playing field for children, encouraging them to participate and feel good about themselves. Not only are football players in Arkansas being benched for scoring too many touchdowns, but on Little League and soccer fields across the country children are not allowed to keep score and teams are not rewarded for anything but the exact same effort that everyone else made.
The thought behind this supposition is that by treating everyone the same, demanding they have equal playing time and are rewarded equally for all of their efforts, we can raise confident children who aren’t too competitive or who won’t have their feelings hurt. Children won’t feel left out, left behind, or not good enough. Is this type of reaction really going to accomplish these goals, and are these goals going to help us raise the kinds of children who are emotionally healthy and successful?
What do these rules really teach?
If the goal is to teach fair play, how does not allowing someone to play to his or her full potential fulfill this goal? It doesn’t. Instead, it panders to the foundation of kindergarten in this country, a setting where children are evened out so that a more level teaching field is created. Teachers focus on children who are behind to bring them up to a minimum working level, and children who are excelling are often given the responsibility of being role models, but not challenged to their full potentials. The goal is average.
If the goal is to create an environment where the other players will want to play more without the pressure of a star teammate, how does benching the athlete for being too good achieve this? It can’t. You can’t teach children to become great by lowering the bar. When there are those once in a lifetime opportunities for children to learn from peers who are excelling, we have to jump at the chance to have models for success. Teach the children that they can be amazing, even before they are old enough to stay home by themselves. If you have a child in the classroom who always scores 100% on a math tests, it would be ridiculous if he were suddenly not allowed to do that 3 times in a row.
If our goal in society is to protect the emotions of children, how does giving them a false sense of reality help achieve that? It won’t. Consider your life and the people in it. Are you the best at everything? Doubtful. You most likely see others in your workplace or social circle who have awesome talents, and from whom you could learn a few things. You can’t expect to learn much from a talented chef if he is only every allowed to show you the appetizers he makes and not the dessert.
It is also not protecting the emotions of the athlete who is succeeding. We set children up for a emotional havoc if we stop them from seeing just how far their talents can take them. In the process of impeding their own success, they might get the false sense that they don’t have to do any more, work any harder, or compete any longer, because they have been led to believe that they have reached the pinnacle. The risk is also there that the child will feel even more ostracized for being benched for being too good than if he just had the opportunity to reach his own limits. Those children playing with him are not protected emotionally by his benching. They are presented with a false reality where successful people don’t challenge them.
Instead of lowering the bar of excellence, give the coaches some responsibility and let them change the play calls so the Jimersons of the world don’t always touch the ball. That would be a better example of leadership than to ask a child not to do his best.
It can’t be easy to be the child teammates of the star athlete, who never quite get their moment to shine. While the Madre Hill rule attempts to counteract this, the tragedy is that as a society we are encouraging our children to be the same, to be average, and that if they can’t reach the bar, we will make it easier. That is not real life, nor is it the way to lead through innovation and ingenuity, or to allow our children to feel real emotions in real, tangible situations. We are setting them up for failures and creating kids who strive for mediocre results.