Ribbons of all color are acceptable

Published 2:28 pm Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Ribbons of all color are acceptable

Vince Lombardi once, or twice, said, “If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score?” 

Lombardi was a man of complex motivations, but of one thing he was clear: it’s most definitely about winning. A scan of his football record would prove he knew of what he spoke. The overall legacy is of winning. He won trophies and trophies are awarded in his name.

Email newsletter signup

The 2018 Winter Olympics are history. Norway finished on top of the medal count. The United States checked out at fourth in the total number of medals won. 

According to one source, Norway has a population of approximately four million. Of that number ,almost one half are members of the Norwegian Sports Federation. Approximately three out of four children participate in sports. The list of available sports is wide, including many which are not associated with snow and cold weather.

Statistics for sports participation in the United States are not  easily compared to Norway. We have a population of about 325 million. The Centers for Disease Control has detailed breakdowns of the fitness level of various segments of the population by region, age, gender and ethnic origin.

It is an oversimplification, but we do appear to be increasing our general level of activity, thus decreasing our level of inactivity. As in Norway, participation in a wide range of pursuits constitutes being active. Lots of things are considered activities. Orienteering is considered a sport. The goal is to get “home” in the least amount of time. While I’m considering a career in curling, I ought to look at orienteering, as well.  Getting home is always a goal of mine.

It all depends on how we define winning. 

Our granddaughter just turned six. Since the summer she was four, she has been taking horseback riding lessons. After about a year of lessons, her teacher determined she was ready for horse shows. Why, oh why, didn’t her parents choose swimming as a participation sport? 

A swimmer can carry his or her gear in a small bag.  When I was coaching, and pool time was hard to get, my team worked out before school every morning. Swimmers would wear practice suits to bed in order to maximize sleep time and minimize getting dressed time.

Equipment for an equestrian is cumbersome. Getting ready for competition involves many clothing, hair control and make up items, not to mention the stuff the horse needs.

We go to horse shows and watch the very little kids her age sitting atop disproportionately large animals who are being led by a teacher holding on to the horse with only a small strip of leather. That’s all there is between my granddaughter and a potential disaster if the horse gets spooked during the maneuvers.

At the conclusion of this age class event, the very small competitors sitting atop their comparatively massive horses wait at attention completely still to hear the results of their performances. The PA announcer informs the audience the judges couldn’t make a decision and all are awarded blue ribbons.

We have quite the collection of photos of a smiling, clearly delighted, child posing with her blue ribbons.  It hasn’t sunk into her mind that blue is the best. She has watched older age groups where there are ribbons handed out which are red, yellow or white. She thinks it would be nice to have a variety of colors to arrange on her wall at home. 

Right now, winning is being there.  She doesn’t know, or care, who Vince Lombardi was. 

Ten percent of U.S. households are actively involved in horseback riding. There are about 126 million households in the U.S. That means there are almost 13 million households with a horse rider, or more. That’s a whole lot of people who likely ride horses for pleasure or work with not much thought to a blue ribbon.

Sure, it would be a thrill if someday I am sitting in the stands watching my granddaughter compete for the U.S. at the Olympics. Only three competitors will ride off with a piece of hardware, only one of which is gold. The judges really do keep score and will make a decision.

Every two years, we watch as athlete after athlete stands in front of the cameras and declares for all the world to hear that he or she is absolutely thrilled to have been there at all as a member of the team, and/or glowing for all the world to see there is a medal on a ribbon worn proudly over the team jacket. Without the medal hanging there, it is sometimes hard to determine from the interview in what place the athlete finished.

Scarcely populated Norway won the total medal count this year in South Korea. Yes, winter sports would seem to be their forte, but they are interested in physical activity in general throughout a lifetime. It is encouraged as a philosophy. Competition outside the club is discouraged before the age of 10 or 11.  It’s all about fun and games.

Even with the focus on winter sports in Norway and the availability of helpful weather everywhere, only 14 Norwegians as individuals or a team stood on the very top of the medal stand in South Korea. The Norwegians value participation on all levels on the stand or not. Back home they are all playing.

Unfortunately, I read of some dissatisfaction with the Olympic results among Americans who must have some say in the program.  How could we, why didn’t we, do better? Maybe we aren’t teaching our kids the importance of winning. We should always be keeping score, judging.  There is no productive reason to give every 6-year-old a blue ribbon. That’s not real life. There is always a score and a judge so they might as well get used to it early.

Vince Lombardi said, “Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” 

I was tickled pink that the U.S. men’s curling team won the gold. They are winners. The  U.S.  may never do it again. We were completely unlikely to have done it this year. We should have given up already what with our long losing record before last week. But the guys kept at it over the years. Now that they have the biggest win of all, do you think they will quit?  I’ll bet not. Those guys will be curling for many years to come, for the fun of it.

When we give kids the same color ribbon in the U.S., or Norway, maybe we are teaching our kids the best lesson.   I’m pretty sure those who are interested in going for the gold, still will.  And those who love the game will always love the game.  The score doesn’t define them.