Do you know what really annoys me? The entire concept of giving kids “participation” trophies. Every kid, every team, they all get the same trophy. Whether your team went 15-0 or 0-15, by God, you were ALL winners. Wait… no they weren’t.

When I was in my mid-20s, I managed a Little League team. The league gave all of the managers the typical, canned shpiel… “Make sure that you tell all of the kids that we’re all going to play and have fun. Make sure they know that winning and losing doesn’t matter. Make sure they know that they’ll all get a participation trophy at the year-end banquet.” At that point, I almost gagged… I immediately flashed back to my first baseball banquet (circa 1981) when instead of receiving that tall (bigger than everyone else’s) trophy that read “Champions” and “1ST Place,” that we were accustomed to receiving for working hard and playing well, they handed us all a participation trophy, because hey… our 4-11 baseball team really, really tried. Give. Me. A. Break. As soon as I got home that cheap piece of feel-good, let’s all sing Kumbaya trinket went right into the dumpster.

As directed, however, I gave them the speech that I was ordered to deliver. I asked if anyone had any questions – they didn’t. Next, I gave them ‘my speech.’ “OK, now that I’ve told you what the league has ordered me to tell you, I’m going to talk to you about my philosophy as it pertains to winning and losing… also called reality. Yes, we are all going to play, and yes, we’re going to have fun doing it, but make no mistake: Winning and losing absolutely matters… on the ball field, and more importantly, in life. If winning didn’t matter, they wouldn’t have given me this scorebook.

Winning feels great, losing stinks. We won’t win them all, and we’ll probably play really, really, lousy once in a while, and that’s OK… but you better hold your heads high when we get pummeled. Give the other team a high-five, but all the while, make sure that you feel the feeling of suffering that loss. Take your frustration, your humiliation, and your aggravation, then use it for your motivation. Recognize just how great winning feels and just how lousy losing feels. When we win, we’ll win with pride; when we lose, we’ll lose with dignity, but we’ll always keep working hard to improve, so that maybe, just maybe, we won’t have to feel that way again.”

This may come as a shock, but there are winners and losers in life. Most of society these days chooses not to admit that, for fear that they’ll melt so many precious snowflakes. By doing so, they’re making these kids feel warm and fuzzy… for the moment… but they’re also setting them up for a big letdown when real life slaps them right upside their heads. Life has consequences… Period.

You didn’t get that promotion at work? Hmmm… you poor, poor, baby. Did you ever stop to consider that maybe the guy who got the promotion actually worked harder for it? Or, maybe, he wasn’t content with the concept of everybody being equal, so he strived to make himself better. Is it so wrong to want to succeed in life? Is it so wrong to want to be a winner? Yes, some people do lose in life due to circumstances beyond their control… but most lose because they have no drive, and no grit… they lose because they have never been driven or motivated to win. They lose because they’re now somehow endowed with self-entitlement.

I think I’ve done “OK” in this world. Maybe I could have done better for myself, and I’m sure that I could have done much worse. I know one thing though… my shortcomings in life were nobody’s fault but my own. When I failed in life it wasn’t my parent’s or society’s fault, and it certainly wasn’t because the boss failed to coddle me for failing to do my job properly, it was because I screwed up… I lost. But you know what? I also refused to give society credit when I won in life. Society didn’t push me to be better… With a little nudging from my dad (more on him later), I pushed myself to become that way.

Believe me when I tell you… I was a bullheaded teenager and a boneheaded young adult. My dad used to lecture me all the time, using all of these sayings that either made no sense whatsoever or seemed and sounded just plain stupid. He’d never let me fall when I needed help, not even as a young adult, but he damned sure didn’t just spoon-feed and coddle me. He pushed me to wake up and smell the coffee burning… he pushed me to quit losing in life.

He died in December 2014, and now that I’m older, I realize that all of his “parental jibberish” was pretty damn insightful. All he wanted me to do was to stop losing in life and start realizing the satisfaction and pride that come with winning. He didn’t care if I was never president, he just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t some alley-dwelling degenerate.

My dad’s name was also Ken, but he grew up being called by his middle name, “Ron.” To that end, each and every day I still think about all of the “Ron-isms” that made no sense then, yet seem crystal clear now.

“Hey Kenny? Do you know what the best thing about beating your head against a brick wall is? It feels really damn good when you finally stop.”

“Ken, you’re watering weeds again.”

“The older you get, the smarter I’ll get.”

NOTE: He never once said, “Hey Ken, it’s OK that you’ve somehow managed to screw up a one-car funeral procession… you’re just as good as everyone else, even though you put forth zero effort.” Come to think of it, he never bought me a participation trophy either.

Thanks, Dad.