My daughter has taken up cheerleading this fall and, for the past eight weeks, has enjoyed shaking her pom-poms and shouting rhyming chants into the autumn air. It helps that she really digs the uniform (which she calls a "costume") and in general likes hanging with other 6 and 7 year-old girls, giggling like nitrous-aided hyenas.
But this weekend, things get serious.
This Sunday, Ella and her squad will participate in the Gwinnett Football League's annual Cheer-Off, and event so massive in size that it will take place at Gwinnett Arena. The pep hits the fan at promptly 8:30 AM, and runs until 8:45 PM. That's twelve hours and fifteen minutes of cheers and chants, jumps and jives, tucks and rolls and non-stop smiles.
And every minute of it will be judged. And not just judged as in, "Wow! Those girls did a great job and are to be commended!" but judged as in, "Skirt is twisted: deduction. Bow is not placed correctly: deduction. Hair doesn't match: deduction. That girl didn't smile enough: deduction. That girl was a half second late on her jump: deduction."
For heavens sake - the girls can have points deducted if their parents yell at the wrong time, or don't yell loud enough at the appropriate time.
Mercifully, the girls of the Grayson 6 & 7 Year Old Rams Cheerleading Squad could care less about the judgment part. They just want to have fun. And they do - last night the parents lined up and watched this group of tiny dynamos line up and absolutely smash their routine, hitting every spot, nailing every turn, and smiling all the while. It was amazing, to be honest. If you've ever tried to get a group of 20 first graders to focus individually on one task for more than 33 seconds, you understand just how impressive it is for 20 of them to move as one unit for roughly 3 minutes.
As their head coach, Valori Harris said, "These girls can win."
But that's where the blog title comes in. While we will cheer and yell and hope for the girls to pull of the win and bring home the trophy (or whatever you win in a Cheer-Off), Coach Harris reminded us that our response should be the same, win-lose-or-massive-cat-fight:
"You should tell them they did a great job, and you're proud of them, no matter what. Don't point out things they could've done better. Don't tell them you saw them make a mistake. Tell them they did great, and that's all."
And then she said something that I completely agree with - "After all, folks: they're only six."
Competition is healthy. Having winners is healthy. Losing is healthy. I think it's important that our kids learn these lessons early, and have the support of wise adults on how to handle both outcomes.
What's unhealthy is when we adults can't accept losing, can't accept that sometimes someone else is better on a given day. When we as grown ups start ripping our kids, or someone else's kids, for their performance, we've lost perspective and need to get a grip. They're kids - they'll forget about the win or loss within 17 minutes, so let's do the same.
In fact, the perfect response for your small child's sporting or competitive endeavors is really simple: "You did great. I'm proud of you." Regardless of outcome, regardless of how the situation played out, those should be the only words out of our mouths. If our kids want to talk about it in more depth, then we can follow their lead, but otherwise?
"You did great. I'm proud of you."
That's all you need to say.
And mom and dad, a little tip: they'll know if you mean it.