Can you imagine if we gave every actor who performed in a movie an OSCAR?  Or perhaps we honor every scientist with a Nobel Prize when they have a significant breakthrough in the lab. Sounds ridiculous right? Somewhere around the time that parents decided it was better to become BFFs with their children than to parent them, and gold became second best to platinum, the rules for competition in American culture shifted.

In order to celebrate every child’s unique spirit and encourage greatness––we collectively decided to award everyone a trophy regardless of his or her talent or ability, effectively cultivating mediocrity.

Little Johnny’s cleat has not made contact with the soccer ball one time in fifteen games, but lets give him a giant gold trophy for his effort! I love gold as much as Abby Lee Miller loves costume jewelry, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to trade in my beautiful sterling silver Tiffany’s wedding band because it’s not the “best.”  We’ve become so focused on convincing our youth that everything in life is fair; too bad we forgot to notify the “real world” of this ridiculous amendment.

Like most young, ambitious dancers I spent every waking hour in the dance studio.  I hated, I mean LOATHED ballet, but in order to compete and perform in our company, I had to suit up like Billy Elliot and work my battement at the ballet barre. In addition to becoming a stronger, more well-rounded dancer I learned the art of discipline, hard work and sacrifice. All of which are key ingredients for a successful life, regardless of your profession.

From "Dance Moms"

Screen shot From “Dance Moms”

Now, dancers are so eager to get on stage and perform the same á la seconde pirouette combo into a side tilt (always to the right with the hip lifted) into a penché forward roll, because they think that’s what it takes to win! Ask them to do a clean tendu to fourth and produce a double pirouette to the left, and they will fail. Not just at competition, but in the industry that they are supposed to be preparing for.

By glossing over the development of real skills and tools in favor of handing out plastic praise painted gold, we have created a generation of children who think that everything they do deserves an Olympic-grade pedestal.

Rather than pushing our would-be leaders of tomorrow to be mediocre at everything, why not invest time harnessing their individual creativity, intelligence, athleticism or artistry in the classroom, studio or on the field––and remind ourselves how monumental it feels to score a victory after working, fighting, and competing among the best. I love a trophy!  I just appreciate it more knowing that I deserved it.

Book cover of "So You Want To Be A Dancer" by Matthew Shaffer - Photo courtesy of Matthew Shaffer.

Book cover of “So You Want To Be A Dancer” by Matthew Shaffer – Photo courtesy of Matthew Shaffer.

Matthew Shaffer is a performer, choreographer, and author of the book, So You Want To Be A Dancer and Dancing Out of the Closet. For more information please visit his website and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FunnyShaffer.

Link to purchase Matthew Shaffer’s book, click here.