Thursday, October 31, 2013

Kona; Lessons Learned...and, Sadly, Not Learned, Again. Plus 3 DQ'd

I Love Working With the First Timers



DSCN0268


Kailua-Kona Pier, athlete check in


 


From noon till 5:30 pm we have to check in about 2150 athletes.  So how many times did I say, "No back packs on the pier tomorrow, new security policy, right?"  Correct, a lot for sure.  I spent a good portion of the afternoon with the bikes.  But the privilege, really, privilege, of being an athlete escort for someone who's not done this race before, particularly one who happens to be pretty nervous, is all I could ask for.  It truly makes my day.  In just a few minutes, we rack a bike and two bags and then spend time on education.  Where do we get in/out of the water?  You know you won't be able to see the swim buoys on race day so let's get an alternative way to sight.  Exactly where do you mount and dismount?  Where's the medical tent...just in case?  And, the big one, where are the finishers medals and shirts given out? 


I think what I would really like is do get all the athletes together who feel intimidated by the swim, for any reason, and have a special session with them on Friday afternoon.  I'll have to think about that for the future.


____________________________________


Unfortunately, as happens every year, there are many happy stories which come for this event, but more than a hand full of competitors did not achieve their desired outcome.  These would range from DNS (Did Not Start) like American Andy Potts who withdrew at the last minute for what was reported as a fibular stress fracture, to those who make a valiant effort and miss one of the discipline cut offs.  Those really hurt.  According to the Ironman.com finishers list approximately 2125 racers are accounted for with the last person to cross the line of 1964 official finishers, being Jay Lakamp - congratulations big guy, well done - (racer numbers go up to 2197 but there can be gaps and last minute changes.) This leaves 161 athletes of whom 3 are listed as DQ, 87 as DNF and the remainder blank, perhaps illness, DNS or no-shows, etc.


From a medical perspective, although this blog is one source, so many athletes continue to overestimate their abilities and underestimate the difficulties encountered on the Big Island.  We repeatedly see problems, many just secondary POOR PRIOR PLANNING.  Although I first heard this from Coach Gale Bernhardt, it's probably been around for awhile and goes something like "poor prior planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine."  Here are a few examples, some preventable, some not, of what brought athletes hardship on race day.


1) Hyponatremia - over consumption of fluids, water and otherwise, leading to a dilution of serum sodium.  Has been fatal in extreme cases.  You should understand this phenomenon.


2) Hypothermia - despite stated water temperature of 79 degrees, this does occur in the slower swimmers, who, with warm up swim, can be in the ocean for two and a half hours. 


3) Flats before the first stroke has been taken - although some do not agree, it's always been my opinion that elevated pressure is not what causes most pre-race bike tire flats (The exact cause is unknown but potentially all the lowering and raising of tire pressures alters the relationship between the tire, tube and wheel a fraction and in a few isolated cases, leads to failure.) This makes the volunteers change your tube while you're swimming, leaving a little note on your steed.   So if you run from the changing tent to your bike, and have bad news before you've pedaled the first rotation, it has to have at least some effect on your day.


4) Dehydration - gone are the days when the athlete simply waltzes into the Med Tent post race and orders up "My IV, please" as one would a cheeseburger and fries.  That said I watched hundreds of finishers, a number of whom struggled across the pier to get to the post-race area making little sense, and even less forward progress.  We took them into the back door of the Med Tent where, understandably, they were both happy and unhappy to see them.  Anybody read Douglas Casa?  Anybody know about how to calculate a personal hydration plan? Are we all too tough or pressed for time to arrive on the island early enough to make a stab at acclimating to both the time zone change and the heat?  I can not tell you how many times I heard, "Boy, it's hot out there!"  Is this some kind of surprise, some unexpected weather pattern?   Or are we just too unthinking to plan for conditions?


There are various opinions/studies which address dehydration.  Some noted authorities say 2% while others believe the number closer to 5% before athletic performance suffers in a major way.  Maybe it's both, or a range, different in different individuals, but do we gain anything by testing the theory?  I saw one finisher after the race at Splashers (Thanks for the beer, Inde) who said he'd had several glasses of fluid post-race, more to drink in the condo, two beers at Splashers - not one, two - before we started chatting. So after what amounts to nearly 100 ounces of fluid replacement, he still had no need to pee.


5)  Gut issues - the GI tract works differently in the heat of Hawaii, not allowed for by many who were just plain sick.


6) Other - from cardiac issues, trauma of one kind or another, cramping, hyperthermia, etc.


 


So, the lesson to learn here, in my opinion, is the time tested phrase, "Mother Nature always bats last."  Many an athlete has tried to beat the Big Island and faired poorly.  I believe it was the great Normann Stadler, two time World Champion, who's quoted as saying, "The Island always wins."  Accept it, believe it, plan for it, work with it and one day, on Alii Drive, you'll hear Mike Reilly say, "You are an Ironman!"  You will.


 


funny-turtle-GoPro-eat-video


Image 2, from The Metapicture



Sunday, October 27, 2013

End of Season Injury Assessment; What Hurts Triathletes; Happy Halloween

 How Pumpkin Pies Are Really Made



He turned around and smiled at me you get the picture? Yes we see.


                                                      Leader of the Pack, the Shangri-Las


____________________________________________


In a recent blog I quoted World renown Coach Jack Daniels on what you can expect from being a coached athlete.  Daniels also noted that:


"a major key to success is to avoid injury and to immediately take care of injuries that occur despite all precautions."
















Despite recent shoulder surgery, this triathlete is still volunteering.



 


 "You want to be famous? Learn how to take blood out of car upholstery?


                                                                John Travolta, Hairspray


 


 This is the time of year for goal review, for updating planning, and determining if the path we're walking (our 2013-14 training plan) and see if what we have leads to success, limping...or both!


 Consider that, according to a piece in the British Journal of Sports Medicine a couple years ago, the ten most common overuse injuries that are seen in the triathlon {running} population are:


 1. Patellofemoral pain (21%)


2. ITB Friction Syndrome (11%)


3. Plantar Faciitis (10%)


4 Meniscal Injuries (6%)


5. Shin Splints (6%)


6. Patellar Tendinitis (6%)


7. Achilles Tendiniitis (6%)


8. Gluteus Medius Injuries (4%)


9. Tibia Stress Fractures (4%)


10.Spine Injuries (3%)


 Note that the key word here is OVERUSE. Since this is near season's end, this is a golden opportunity to potentially revise one's thought processes, how we think about a workout and it's potential to harm us.  Really harm us.  I can not tell you how many athletes I've spoken to are chained to their schedule.  If they have something that interferes with that schedule, foul weather, car troubles, uh, their child's first grade play which, if they miss they earn many negative good spouse points from their mate,.... just add the mileage on to the next days plan!  Long?  Short? High intensity?  Low intensity? Hardly matters to them.  The do it anyway.  Is this smart training, good use of your body or simply sub optimal thinking?


  Adam Zucco, frequent IM 70.3 Age Group winner/Kona qualifier, and Training Bible Coach would have his coached athletes list their planned races for the upcoming season and the importance of each. Using the periodization model, he'd set up a 3 weeks on/1 week rest repeating game plan to slowly build, first the mileage, then the intensity (accompanied by a decrease in volume). In other words, he understands the principle of gradually increased load that the body will respond to rather than acute increases in training stress. This will give the racer the highest likelihood of both improving the level of fitness but doing so with the lowest potential for injury. While this is not new thinking, getting it right can be a chore.  And as it relates here, he told me once, "I really lean on my athletes to go with the flow of life.  If they miss a work out, no big deal.  If they miss 2 or 3 I ask them to call me and we simply figure out what's right." Wise words from an experienced athlete/coach.


From a bone health perspective, and those female athletes who teeter on the border of osteopenia (low bone mass) and normal, sticking to the slope of stress increase that the musculoskeletal system sees is the key component to staying out of the MRI scanner searching for that next stress fracture.


 As you revise your 2013-2014 plan, remember that frequently runners/triathletes will come in to the clinic and have a single work out that pushed them over the brink. Oftentimes this was something foolish like racing against a friend, pushing thru pain when they knew they should stop and walk, beer miles,etc., that will cost them a part of the season, and, as they used to say in the U.S. Army commercials, the opportunity to "Be All You Can Be." The time to start thinking was yesterday.  Please, triathlon is important to you, don't be a log book worshiper, think long term.


_______________________________________________



WARNING...DO NOT LEAVE ALCOHOL NEAR YOUR PUMPKINS!




  



Image 1,2 Google images



Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Part 2, Can You (Legally) Break a Kona Age Group Record by Half an Hour?

 


Hawaii 2011-STPT 070


Readers - this has proven way more interesting than I thought. For this to make any sense, please read Monday's blog Can You (Legally) Break a Kona Age Group Record by Half an Hour? .


Some early comments to yesterday, all over the map as you might anticipate, but most very passionate and thoughtful, include:


"Youre HUGELY underrating talent."


"Can very confidently say 'Yes'."


"what u think?"


"I'm not trying to defend the guy (my philosophy of where there's smoke there's fire tends towards doubt in most cases) but one thing to look at to help is Bodson's performance against his race history times. Is there consistency or acceptable progression? all Kona: 1998 age 40, 10:13 2006: 9:27 2008: 9:38 2009: 9:35 2013: 9:18 "


"Thanks for your addition. I know at Las Vegas there was said to be suspicion of fast age groupers by the pros.."They don't get drug tested like we do."


_____________________________________________


So I thought let's look at Hawaii 10 years ago and see who repeated in the same age group, same position in the age group (i.e. if you just aged up in 2013, you just aged up in 2003) etc. and see what we get.  Keep in mind that this is terribly unscientific, it assumes that you could qualify in both decades and that you were still interested in triathlon, not burned out selling chili cheese dogs on a street corner in Manhattan, etc.  Also, it's just me looking them up and I may have missed one - I do have a wife to cook dinner for.


In 2003 there were 114 finishers in the men's 45-49 age group, who would now be 55-59.  Those in both races are as follows:


                                                   2003      2013


Aart Van Wijk                     10:51         9:51


Gregory Taylor                  10:06        9:58


Randall Walker                  11:10       10:22


Reinhold Garnitschnig    10:23      10:23  (by 55 seconds!  Good job.)


Detlef Profaska                   10:30      11:11


Eric Wilkins                          10:06     11:12


Paul Boznian                         11:18      11:13


Shigy Suzuki                         10:39     12:36


John Hill                                   9:58     13:16


In 2003, if you were slower than 11:18, or 54th of 114, your name did not appear in 2013.  In other words, it seems the faster you were in 2003 the more likely you were to be in Kona again in 2013, to a degree. 


So our sample size is only 9 athletes, one of whom got an hour faster in the interval 10 years!  Is there a right answer?  I don't think so.  But I think this small amount of data leans in the athlete's favor and not in the direction Pharmaceuticals R Us type assistance.  In a race where the female winner can lay down a 2:50:38 marathon, I get goose bumps just typing it, fastest by 8 minutes, I think you at least have to give the racer the benefit of the doubt. 


To get another slant, I asked Kona veteran, IM Louisville age group winner Steve Maves to weigh in here.  Below are his thoughts.


Steve Maves


 I read yesterdays blog with interest as you would guess.  I didn't comment.  The main reason, I strongly believe in the concept of innocence until proven otherwise, public executions are not my style, and since Ironman elects not to test (keeping their head in the sand) everything else is speculation.  I agree with all of the comments.  As you know, I feel that there is a fair amount (whatever that means) or chemical aid in the world of amateur sports.  I know people who do.  They aren't on the podium at Kona however.  I enjoyed the article and this one as well.  I just wish Ironman would put it all to rest by testing amateur podium finishers.









As I mentioned in our past conversation, the athlete you chose to highlight has done well in Kona in the past and to some degree weather helped, I'm just not sure that we should expect age groupers (I thinking about the individual here, not overall trend), to get better as they (the individual) ages.  If you look at age group times at Kona after the age of 40, they get slower by 10-20 minutes per age group especially if we get rid of the outliers.  If he is clean, he is truly and outlier.  We will never know.

Also, Looking at your data of people in the same age group 10 years later where a  few improved their time.  Two did it in dramatic fashion (around an hour).  In order to evaluate these isolated performances we would have to know more about the first race.  For example, maybe they didn't train much back then so this year represented a dramatic increase in training.  Maybe they were sick last time or had just finished a Ironman 6 weeks before or maybe they just had a bad day or the weather was complete crazy that day.  All in all, hard to say.  For example, I ran 11:32:55 in Coeur D'alene in 2007 and 9:40:49 in 2011 in Kentucky.  I had an awful day in Idaho.  So, we would have to know more about the individuals.

_______________________________

Thank you Steve.  So, this gives us all food for thought and conclusions of our own to draw.









Sunday, October 20, 2013

Can You (Legally) Break a Kona Age Group Record by Half an Hour?

Record Breakers



2012 Fall WI-HI 026


 


It was done this year.  By my count, the favorable weather conditions contributed to the breaking of 14 age group records.  Three were absolutely pulverized.  By about 30 minutes. That's three zero, thirty!  In Kona where only the best of the best (or the luckiest in some cases) race. In this day when a spectacular result is frequently accompanied by not so subltle comments like "Well, let's wait till the blood work comes back," or "Yeah, so did Nina Kraft and you see what her 'A sample' proved."  Sadly, we are living in a time where at least a shade of presumed guilt accompanies athletic success.  So, let's see what history shows and whether we should simply be applauding a great athlete or should these performances be viewed with a jaundiced eye.


OK, I'll admit it.  I can be a bit of a pack rat when it comes to triathlon.  But I'm asking an important question here and I want to have the facts straight.  I have in front of me an official Ironman race program from the Hawaii race, every year, for the past 32 years, as my source.  And we're not talking about any other event outside Kona.  (I know of examples where age group records at other venues have been smashed by thirty or more minutes recently but these events lack two things that Hawaii does not: 1) a 35 year history and 2) the best athletes in the world competing at the same place under the same conditions.)


Several things to consider when trying to answer this question are that the Kona course has had many revisions since it moved to the Big Island in 1981 and there can be wild fluctuations in conditions.  Couple that with the fact that the course has changed many times since Valerie Silk, then the head cheese, moved the race from Honolulu to the Big Island.  If you didn't know, in the last decade alone, the transition area has moved three times.  And awhile before that, T2 was 7 miles south in Keauhou.  So comparing one year against another was has it's challenges.


Let's examine one of the "big three," the age groups that saw the greatest record lowering this year.  I'll choose male 55-59 age group.


Until last Saturday, and for the preceding 7 years, the best performance for those gents was 9:47 by Reinhold Humbold of Germany.  Going a bit further back, to 1982 actually, before there were qualifying races and all you had to do, like in the triathlon down the street, was enter.  That year Cliff Cummins topped the others his age racing to a 13:36.  At that point in IM, an age group record holder was not crowned, only the quickest that year.  You'll see that when you examine the data. Here's how it's stacked up since.  Remember, these are not necessarily when the record was set but when it was listed in the race program.


1982 Cliff Cummins   13:36


1983  same                     13:29


1984 Bill Perkins   14:06


1985 Not listed


1986 Dick Robinson 12:05


1987 Rod Johnson 11:47


1987 France Cokan 11:35


1988, 89, 90, 91, 92 same


1993 John Cavanaugh 10:47


1994 Mark Malone 10:44


1995, 96, 97 same


1998 Esko Stromsholm 10:44


1999, 2000, 01, 02


2003 Rolf Mathius 10:22


2004 same


2005 Yves Tabbarent 9:53


2006 Reinhold Humbold 9:47


2007, 08, 09, 10, 11, 12, 13


And, as will be seen in the 2014 program, Christian Bodson of Belgium crossed the line in 9:18.  So, despite some level of sketicism, I believe that even though it's my understanding that Ironman has the power to check the blood of whomever they so choose, they do so sparingly and that the results seen here are likely consistent with great athletes who just have a good day.  Legally.


 


Unless of course you are Legally Blonde.



Image 2, Google Images



Thursday, October 17, 2013

Should You Be Coached? Do You Want to Race in Kona?

"A good coach produces beneficial reactions to training, creates positive race results, and transforms the athletes he or she brings into the program into better runners (and one hopes, better human beings").        

                                                             Jack Daniels, Phd.  "World's Best Running Coach" Runner's World

I've been home from Kona only a couple days, and as you'd expect, volumes of information are coming out.  Bike count, wheels, watt meters, etc.  I have also seen two athlete surveys asking the competitors about whether or not they have a coach.  The first reported just over 50% saying yes and the second over 60% admitting that they are coached.  Think about that for a second.  In your group of friends, what percent use the services of a coach?  A lot less than 60% I'll bet.  But then how many in your group of friends were told "You are an Ironman" by Mike Reilly, voice of Ironman, last Saturday?


DSCN0368

 The finish line in Kona, 2012

___________________________________________________

The triathlon World Series is over.  Mr. October (and Ms. October) have been crowned - nope, not Reggie Jackson.  Frederik Van Lierde and Mirinda Carfrae.  It's a time when all of us begin to reevaluate our seasons, what went well and what went less so.  Harry Chapin, in a song called Mr. Tanner, about a baritone from the midwest, penned the line, "he did not know how well he sang, he only heard the flaws."   Some of us train that way.  We're really hard on ourselves.  It can be fairly destructive.

In essence, at this time of year we look at where we are and where we want to be and ask ourselves, "Now what?"

OK, here's my disclaimer.  I've worked with two triathlon training companies in a no pay arrangement helping their injured athletes.  Oh, and helping their athletes not injured stay that way.  And, when I was still racing iron distance I had a coach.

In Coach Daniels books you find the following statement: "There are four key ingredients for success in distance running {or triathlon} - or for any other pursuit in life, for that matter.  They are, in order, inherent ability, motivation, opportunity, and direction.  Note the importance of ability.  Those new aero bars may contribute to your success but without the right genes, the success you seek may elude you.  Think about it this way.  Golfing legend Lee Trevino is quoted as having said, "It's not the arrow; it's the indian."

So, as you begin to formulate your ATP for 2014, after an appropriate break from swim bike run completely of course, think about whether a coach fits into your lifestyle and checkbook.   Heck, you have a full year, more than that in some cases, of coaching for what some will put out for a new set of aero wheels.

Abraham Lincoln advised, "He who represents himself has a fool for a client."  While I certainly don't think it's a direct carry over to our sport, if you want to make it to the top, and what you've tried to date hasn't gotten you there, think about getting a coach.  It's certainly not for everyone but it might be for you.  60 percent of those in Hawaii last week would agree.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Why You should Fill Your Company With Athletes

"I remember there was a cartoon in the Honolulu paper after the first Ironman.  It showed a guy in a hospital bed with a second place trophy.  The caption was, "I only came in second.  The winner died."


Michael Collins, son of Ironman founders John and Judy Collins



DSCN0278


 


 


 


1000 bags awaiting 1000 riders


_________________________


The following is reproduced from Forbes and I thought it of particular interest to this audience.


Why You Should Fill Your Company With 'Athletes'




 




The best business team players are athletes.At our company, we work to fill our roster with “athletes.” I don’t mean this necessarily in the physical sense, although it turns out that quite a few of our members are literal athletes – we have a national-class triathlete, I have a personal interest in competitive and recreational bodybuilding, and there are multiple marathoners, bikers, soccer, and basketball players, CrossFit enthusiasts, etc. on staff. We also have a companywide interest in health and fitness, which we call “Fishbowl FIT.” But when I advise people to seek and hire athletes, what I am really referring to is the athlete traits (akin to leadership traits) that make any individual an exceptional hire.


The traits of athletes we desire are as follows:


1. They have the drive to practice a task rigorously, relentlessly, and even in the midst of failure until they succeed. Athletes are tenacious—they seldom or never give up. They also have a strong work ethic and the ability to respect and deal with the inevitable issues of temporary pain (along with the intuition to know when the cause of the pain is an issue too serious to safely ignore.)


2. Athletes achieve their goals. If one avenue is blocked, they find another path to success. If their physical strength has given out, they learn to work smarter, not harder. As they learn to become more effective they become more efficient.


3. Athletes develop new skills. Even though an athlete is highly specialized at certain skills, such as speed, blocking, or hand-eye coordination, they are also good at adapting to scenarios that call for cross-functional skills.


4. Athletes are exceptional entrepreneurs.As you consider new hires, you will likely discover that business athletes are often former (or current) entrepreneurs. Whereas people from large corporate environments may tend to be specialized in their skills and single-minded in their objectives, a business athlete is equipped to see the bigger vision of all that goes into making a company thrive. They can think strategically and are tuned in to the “big picture” and the long-term goals. They also know how to put the strategy into action.


5. Athletes strive for balance. Too much junk food and too little sleep will not contribute to a healthy company or a winning performance. Their bodies must be strong and in good condition, so athletes understand that they can’t cheat the system for long and expect positive results. A true business athlete will respect the laws of balance in energy, health, sleep, and nutrition (as well as the business corollaries) that will allow them to succeed and to do so not only in the present but for the long term as well.


6. Athletes work well with partners and in teams. Athletes know how to leverage the unique and complementary strengths of each member of their team. They know that cutting down a teammate or disrespecting a partner will only contribute to an organization’s demise. In fact, an athlete will typically put the needs of the team or a partner on equal par or even ahead of their own needs. How do you find and hire these athletes? Consider the questions you ask in interviews about outside projects, other interests, community service, the ability to focus on pet tasks, and the concepts of teamwork. And, as always, be keen to the ways you can recognize and hire for propensity instead of for current demonstrable traits. Many of my own strongest players have never previously excelled at a physical sport. They never knew they were athletes. That’s an important aspect of hiring athletes: The world’s best athletes are not necessarily discovered; they are trained.


How are you finding, fostering, and training the champion athletes on your own business team?  Everyone deserves the opportunity to discover the “athlete” within themselves.


Additional reporting for this article was provided by Mary Michelle Scott, Fishbowl President. David Williams’ book, The 7 Non-Negotiables of Winning, is available from Amazon.





Thursday, October 3, 2013

Why It's Good to Lose Sometimes

Helping First Time Ironman Athletes - My Favorite Thing


____________________________________________


A week from tomorrow, Friday October 11th, is just about my favorite day of the year.  Every year.  I will be privileged, for 4 or 5 hours, to help direct athletes and Athlete Escorts, into the transition area on the Kailua-Kona pier in Hawaii.  Having been there more than 20 times, I try to find the first timers and get them to think about every item they need to accomplish the next day to ensure they successfully cross the finish line to Mike Reilly bellowing, "You are an Ironman."  If I can have it so that when they leave the pier, they have no questions and understand all of their upcoming steps, I've done my job.  And then I grab another athlete and do it again.  My favorite day!



DSCN0256


 


I only have a couple awards left over from childhood days.  A baseball trophy where I was on the team that won the championship, but I didn't play much, and a bowling trophy.  I didn't letter in HS track until my junior year and most of those things are long gone.  Who knew I'd (we'd??) get involved in a sport where you'd be rewarded for accepting some level of pain?  Sometimes a lot of pain?


Medical school was the same thing.  The first year I applied I was rejected by all nine schools to which I applied.  So I tried even harder, and was accepted the following year.


There's something about not reaching your goal, whether it's a DNF in your first marathon, or not getting the job you so desperately want, that makes us try harder the second, or third, time.  I believe this effort framework is common to the people in this sport who may do poorly in a race, but really enjoy the challenge, and figure out what it takes to succeed the next time.  It doesn't only apply to triathlon of course.


I've always disagreed with the "everybody gets a trophy" philosophy.  Certainly, when one completes a long race, or Tough Mudder, or challenging event a finisher's medal can be in good taste.  But there are those who would suggest that they also benefit by being on the clock.  One of them is Ashley Merryman, author of the article which follows.  I think you'll enjoy it as much as I did.


 



DSCN0274


 


Losing Is Good for You


By ASHLEY MERRYMAN


LOS ANGELES — AS children return to school this fall and sign up for a new year’s worth of extracurricular activities, parents should keep one question in mind. Whether your kid loves Little League or gymnastics, ask the program organizers this: “Which kids get awards?” If the answer is, “Everybody gets a trophy,” find another program.




Trophies were once rare things — sterling silver loving cups bought from jewelry stores for truly special occasions. But in the 1960s, they began to be mass-produced, marketed in catalogs to teachers and coaches, and sold in sporting-goods stores.


Today, participation trophies and prizes are almost a given, as children are constantly assured that they are winners. One Maryland summer program gives awards every day — and the “day” is one hour long. In Southern California, a regional branch of the American Youth Soccer Organization hands out roughly 3,500 awards each season — each player gets one, while around a third get two. Nationally, A.Y.S.O. local branches typically spend as much as 12 percent of their yearly budgets on trophies.


It adds up: trophy and award sales are now an estimated $3 billion-a-year industry in the United States and Canada.


Po Bronson and I have spent years reporting on the effects of praise and rewards on kids. The science is clear. Awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead, it can cause them to underachieve.


Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, found that kids respond positively to praise; they enjoy hearing that they’re talented, smart and so on. But after such praise of their innate abilities, they collapse at the first experience of difficulty. Demoralized by their failure, they say they’d rather cheat than risk failing again.


In recent eye-tracking experiments by the researchers Bradley Morris and Shannon Zentall, kids were asked to draw pictures. Those who heard praise suggesting they had an innate talent were then twice as fixated on mistakes they’d made in their pictures.


By age 4 or 5, children aren’t fooled by all the trophies. They are surprisingly accurate in identifying who excels and who struggles. Those who are outperformed know it and give up, while those who do well feel cheated when they aren’t recognized for their accomplishments. They, too, may give up.


It turns out that, once kids have some proficiency in a task, the excitement and uncertainty of real competition may become the activity’s very appeal.


If children know they will automatically get an award, what is the impetus for improvement? Why bother learning problem-solving skills, when there are never obstacles to begin with?


If I were a baseball coach, I would announce at the first meeting that there would be only three awards: Best Overall, Most Improved and Best Sportsmanship. Then I’d hand the kids a list of things they’d have to do to earn one of those trophies. They would know from the get-go that excellence, improvement, character and persistence were valued.


It’s accepted that, before punishing children, we must consider their individual levels of cognitive and emotional development. Then we monitor them, changing our approach if there’s a negative outcome. However, when it comes to rewards, people argue that kids must be treated identically: everyone must always win. That is misguided. And there are negative outcomes. Not just for specific children, but for society as a whole.


In June, an Oklahoma Little League canceled participation trophies because of a budget shortfall. A furious parent complained to a local reporter, “My children look forward to their trophy as much as playing the game.” That’s exactly the problem, says Jean Twenge, author of “Generation Me.”


Having studied recent increases in narcissism and entitlement among college students, she warns that when living rooms are filled with participation trophies, it’s part of a larger cultural message: to succeed, you just have to show up. In college, those who’ve grown up receiving endless awards do the requisite work, but don’t see the need to do it well. In the office, they still believe that attendance is all it takes to get a promotion.


In life, “you’re going to lose more often than you win, even if you’re good at something,” Ms. Twenge told me. “You’ve got to get used to that to keep going.”


When children make mistakes, our job should not be to spin those losses into decorated victories. Instead, our job is to help kids overcome setbacks, to help them see that progress over time is more important than a particular win or loss, and to help them graciously congratulate the child who succeeded when they failed. To do that, we need to refuse all the meaningless plastic and tin destined for landfills. We have to stop letting the Trophy-Industrial Complex run our children’s lives.


This school year, let’s fight for a kid’s right to lose.



Ashley Merryman is the author, with Po Bronson, of “NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children” and “Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing.”



DSCN0275