Monday, March 10, 2014

Tournament's reward is the journey

From Saturday's Briefing:

Every Thursday night since September, Katie has been practicing with a small group of third-graders in preparation for the regional Destination Imagination tournament.
They selected their challenge, created a problem and solution, wrote a 15-minute script and whittled it to eight, crafted costumes and props, and rehearsed dialogue and a song over and over and over again.
Last Saturday, the teammates and their adult handlers arrived at the tournament site, as prepared as they’d ever be. They performed an Instant Challenge (impromptu problem), waited two hours, then performed their skits.
In no time flat, they’d reached the end.
Or, as Katie said as she settled into a lounge chair outside the competition room, “You practice and practice for months, and then you perform for a couple of minutes, and it's over.”
It’s an understandable point of view, especially for a goal-oriented 8-year-old (who is the daughter of a goal-oriented 41-year-old).
Sometimes, we’re so focused on the destination that when we’ve finally reached it, we minimize the journey.
We forget that eight minutes of a performance represents new friendships and refined skills of compromise, mistakes and forgiveness. We forget essential lessons on time management and priorities, on sticking to your guns and letting things go.
Looking back at the path is especially important when you’ve reached the destination — and it turns out to be less than you expected.
Katie’s team didn’t earn a medal.
They worked hard, but their final product wasn’t as clever or polished as their competitors.
Not everyone can win first, second or third. When you compete, you take the risk of not being the best in that category on that particular day. But it’s a risk with a guaranteed reward — you might win first, second or third. And if you don’t, well, that’s when you start reviewing the path that got you there.
A couple of years ago, Cooper was starting to feel overwhelmed by the competition around him — Boy Scouts who were eager to reach rank before anyone else, kids at recess who played cutthroat soccer.
Around the same time, I discovered a quote in the Wm. Paul Young novel Cross Roads: “Life was never meant to be about comparing or competing.”
I copied the words on a small piece of paper and left it at his place at the breakfast table. We talked about the quote and its countercultural message. Then the scrap of paper disappeared. I discovered it later, taped to Cooper’s bedroom mirror.
The words are still there.
Cooper is in the middle of his first track and field season. He’s been running long distances — the 2,400 meters and the 1,600. He’s fast but not the fastest.
So far, he hasn’t cracked the top three.
Yet he leaves each meet — each four-hour meet in a mercurial Texas winter — with a huge grin and energy to spare.
On our long, dark walks to the car, Cooper regales us with tales of shenanigans in the infield. He relives the moment he passed another seventh- grader on the track and the split second when a different runner passed him.
Katie asks, “Did you hear me screaming for you when you ran by?”
His answer is always yes. (How could he miss it?)
I ask, “Did you have fun?”
His answer is always yes.
He doesn’t let his time on a 1-mile run define him. He doesn’t view a single race as the end.
Each race is simply a step in a long path. To where? Who knows. For now he’s content to enjoy the journey.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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