November 3, 2011

How The Game Is Played

By Michael Terry
Program Manager
Safe From The Startr
Child Abuse Council

Fall in the Midwest; there is nothing quite like it. The leaves changing, temperatures chilling and earlier evenings signal the end of summer, the beginning of school and, for me, thoughts of football. My experience of this season has shifted over the years. I no longer play football due to age and insurance premiums. I rarely even get to watch due to the business of life with two young children. So now, football (and sports in general) lives within the remembrances and life lessons I gained and continue to carry with me. What I learned about life while on the playing field, I hope my children, too, will learn about someday. Lessons such as sportsmanship, discipline, integrity, teamwork, sense of purpose and how success comes through effort.

Once learned, these lessons become personal traits which culminate to form good character. Of course, participation within sports is not the only way to forge good character. Athletics help illustrate my thoughts regarding ongoing shifts within our culture. I understand culture and society shift over time; reinvented, to some degree, through generational succession; each generation striving to build and improve upon their forefather’s accomplishments. This drive is similar to that experienced by teams and players at the onset of a new season. Their quest is for success. But what is success, and how do the “players” and “team” know when they have achieved it?

We all have heard the idiom, “it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” This clearly states how we conduct ourselves is of greater value than what we accomplish. However, a gap is widening between what our culture claims to value (good conduct) and what we choose to reward (winning). As society increasingly chooses to exclusively reward the winner, or “result,” the process becomes less celebrated and viewed as less important. When obtaining results becomes paramount, a “win at all costs” ethic is fostered, with traits such as integrity, self sacrifice and discipline viewed as a hindrance. The traits, which serve to build a child’s capacity for greater, long-term success, become secondary to the win. Focusing only on the “win” may ensure short-term material success for a select few; however, the majority will likely begin to feel disillusioned and powerless. Rewarding the process in which integrity, hard work and moral behavior are cultivated and espoused will instill pride, self esteem and involvement. Winning then becomes secondary to ethical effort.

Children, who are pushed to win above all, may miss opportunities to learn the value of their own best effort and self sacrifice. Children, who develop positive character traits, are more likely to contribute within the community and lead healthier and happier lives. I invite each of you as parents, grandparents, mentors, coaches, entrepreneurs and leaders within our community not to name “winners” and “losers,” but rather demonstrate higher regard for “how the game is played.”

The Child Abuse Council exists to lead community efforts to eliminate child abuse and neglect by strengthening children and families through treatment, education and prevention. For more information about the Child Abuse Council’s prevention and education programs, you can visit at