In the Tiger Mom debate, one example that comes up an awful lot is that of the after-school soccer leagues in which they don’t keep score, and in which every child is a Most Valuable Player.
The opponents of this type of soccer league make the following points (not all of which I disagree with 100%, by the way):
- The purpose of these leagues is to help children to feel good about themselves, and to prevent them from feeling bad about themselves.
- While this isn’t a bad thing, these self-esteem soccer leagues go about it the wrong way.
- In fact, these leagues are ultimately harmful to the children because the “self-esteem” that is instilled in them isn’t real. True self-esteem comes with a combination of ability, hard work, and the overcoming of obstacles — none of which are encouraged or rewarded in a self-esteem league.
- These soccer leagues are a way for over-protective parents to shield their delicate flowers from the harsh realities of life, including the reality that some people are better than others at soccer (or whatever). Self-esteem leagues are a way to keep children from growing up — and those children will pay for it later when they’re adults in the real word.
- Further, these soccer leagues punish the “good” players because they don’t get a chance to hone their skills in a truly competitive environment. Even not-so-good players are punished because they aren’t encouraged to push themselves to see what they are truly capable of.
- The games themselves become pointless for both the players and the spectators.
What bothers me about the use of self-esteem soccer leagues as a talking point in the Tiger Mom debate is that it ignores the context in which these leagues arose:
- We are becoming an increasingly sedentary society. Childhood obesity is reaching epidemic proportions. Anything that gets children to move around is a great thing.
- An awful lot of children have been turned off to soccer (as well as softball, football, etc.) by “competitive” settings, in which they play in constant fear of being judged harshly by their teammates, their coaches, and their parents — assuming that they get to play at all.
- Okay, I’ll admit it — there are definitely parents who coddle their children. But IMHO, Tiger Moms and Dads are a huge part of the reason that self-esteem leagues were created in the first place — a lot of parents were being too hard on their children (and not too soft).
- In fact, “competitive” leagues can also be harmful to children — even those who excel. Especially those who excel. Record number of children are suffering from sports-related injuries. A lot of them are getting surgery that used to be performed only on professional athletes. (If you want an example, Google “Tommy John surgery” and “children.”)
- Talk about false self-esteem! How about those kids who excel at sports when they’re ten, only to find out later on that they’re nowhere near good enough for a college scholarship, let alone for a career in the big leagues? Who do you think goes to all of those sports bars? Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad for some of those kids to learn how to have fun with kids who don’t play as well as they do.
Self-esteem leagues aren’t perfect. But let’s at least have an honest debate about what’s going on…