Oct 03

Medals for All vs Medals for Finishing

License: Free For Non-Commercial Use Author: Limpa

License: Free For Non-Commercial Use
Author: Limpa

I started watching this season of Survivor. I’ve always liked Survivor and reality games like that because it appeals to the part of me that likes to see how people act in out of the ordinary situations. I did major in psychology in college after all. This season they are pitting Millennials against Gen X’ers. As a Gen X’er I’m curious how this season will play out. I’m also seeing just how old Millennials are getting! I was talking to my 13 year old, 8th grade, daughter about it and she was wondering if she fit under Millennial or Gen Z. She was actually happy and I think identifies more with Gen Z!

While watching the player interviews one Gen X’er said something I’ve been hearing and reading about, how Millennials are enabled and spoiled by getting trophies for participation without having earned the trophies. There are people who are bothered when kids play a sport and everyone gets a trophy for coming out and playing. Traditionally, the trophy has been reserved only for the winners, and the top or overall winners at that.

I think about stuff like that. I tend to think that if kids are young enough, maybe getting a trophy for playing can be all right but I’m just not sure. The whole concept of competition is that there will be winners, or a winner, and losers. When it comes to education and the things we do in schools, cooperation and collaboration help kids learn better than competition very often. Sometimes a little competition is fun and livens up a lesson so I’m not opposed to competition entirely.

But last weekend I was running a 10K race and overheard a man talking to his wife about running the race. The man told his wife, “Just don’t come in last.”

“Why not?” She replied, then said something like, “I just want to finish and if I do, even if I come in last, I still met my goal.”

That put quite a bit into perspective for me. I like to run races. It’s great being around so many people who also like to run and I get my best times when I run with other runners. I am not good enough to win any of the races I run. There are many, many people out there who are way better and faster than me. In many races only 1st, 2nd and 3rd place runners get prizes but in many of those races everyone who finishes the race gets a medal. I think that no matter where you are in your running, whether you are just getting started and finishing is your top goal or whether you’ve been running for a while and looking to beat your best time, completing the race is an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Here are some medals I’ve gotten that mean a lot to me even though I was nowhere near “winning” those races:

I’ve run a bunch of 5K’s and 10K’s but two of the races handed out medals and I have them with pride. The half marathon medal is the only one I’ve ever run so that one is unique. I’m working towards running my second half this year.

These are medals for completing two 5K Zombie Infested runs. Those were fun. Notice the medals say Infected. I didn’t “win” by any means. I finished the run but had all my flags taken by zombies which means I was technically infected. “Winning” would have meant finishing the run with at least one flag left.

These medals I got for completing four virtual runs on the game that started me on the path of running, Zombies, Run! A virtual race is one you run alone but are still competing with everyone else running the race. The game and phone GPS keeps track of your time and distance. I ran a 5K and a 10K for the 2015 and the spring 2016 races. It was fun and I was nowhere near a top speed but I still appreciate the medals and they mean something to me. I did happen to get good times, especially considering that I was running alone.

This one shows a series of digital badges I got on MapMyRun (another app I use to track all my running). I joined a challenge to run 1,000Km in 2016 called You vs the Year. After a calf tear last summer I was ready to get back into running this year. I was amazed that I reached 1,000Km before the year is even over! So those digital badges, especially the last one, mean a lot to me. There are lot of better runners out there, I am in 13,834th place overall! But comparing me to me, I am a complete winner! The You vs the Year group on Facebook is a very supportive and encouraging group populated with top runners all the way to beginning runners. No matter where you are we are all in it together and can help each other.


So yeah, there are times when everyone who participates getting a medal is completely appropriate. Maybe this works in running because it is mostly a solitary sport. I don’t know. I just know that the medals I have, and the bibs for all my races, remind me of what I overcame to become a runner. Every race I finish is a win for me. And for some of our students, every “race” they finish, whether it’s writing an essay or trying their best on a test, is a definite win for them. Does that mean they should get medals and trophies for all that? I don’t think so, but every now and then, giving everyone a medal for completing something that requires work and effort and maybe even training, is okay. I keep remembering that for those of us who aren’t intrinsically motivated to complete a task, an extrinsic motivator can at least get us started on it and we may even become intrinsically motivated after trying it!

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