I was a terrible cheerleader once. This was pee wee cheerleading, not the big leagues, and no kid at that age is going to be a paragon of grace, but especially not a girl who’s taller than her classmates and a little fat and in the midst of her gangliest stage. But I wanted to try it. My friends who were not so tall or fat or gangly were all there and said, even to a young kid like me, that maybe the exercise would help me lose weight.
I was worried about that sort of thing before junior high. Sad to think about now in retrospect.
Anyway, I went to practice. Every practice, without fail. I practiced at home all the time. I practiced with my friends at their houses. I still remember some of the cheers a million years later because that’s how my brain works. It’s a spongy piece of skull meat that can’t recall locations of wallets, keys, or second shoes, but do I ever remember, “WESTIES CONQUER AND DEFEAT, LET’S GO BIG TEAM YOU GOT THAT BEAT.” I even remember the hand motions of the stupid cheer.
I cared then. A lot. I attended every game.
For a while.
Every town sport, no matter what age, has a competition season. Statewide events where you go to compete against kids your own age. Cheerleading was no different, and we had “try-outs” for the state competition. We weren’t a big squad, so it wasn’t really necessary, but it certainly succeeded in doing what the coach of the team set out to do. You see, after try outs, every single person on the squad got to go to regionals except me and one other girl. Both of us were tall, a little fat, and gangly. We didn’t blend.
I cried. I cried more when, a few days later, that friend (named Erin, by the way) got called up to go to regionals because one of the other girls on the squad couldn’t make it. I was the only kid left out. I was the only one not good enough to go with the team I practiced with and cheered with.
I stopped going to cheerleading for the most part after that. I certainly never signed up again. The writing was on the wall that I wasn’t worthy and I wasn’t good and I wasn’t and I wasn’t. It’s hard to muster much enthusiasm for something that’s such an utter humiliation. One kid out of twenty. Hi, I’m Hillary the failed cheerleader.
I often see people talk about our entitled generation where every kid gets a trophy for trying. I often see people insisting that rewarding everyone only encourages mediocrity and that’s not how people WIN in life. Well, as the kid that would have been the only one denied the trophy, I can tell you that’s a pretty horrible thing to wish on a child. I would rather reward a kid for giving something a shot than to discourage them by communicating that their efforts matter less than those of their teammates. That they aren’t as good as other kids so just deal with it because SORRY MIDDLE SCHOOLER, THEM’S THE BREAKS. Sure, there are always going to be superstars in any sport or club and those superstars deserve an extra gold star, and I have no problem giving them said gold star (or, by this analogy, a Much Bigger Trophy), but I also don’t want to deny the one tall, fat, gangly kid their token gesture.
I tell this story because, as I get older, I look back less at all the things I’ve done and more at all the things I didn’t do. Weird how that works, but it’s true. I was always afraid of team sports after the cheerleading thing, so I stayed away from them. I developed a fear of public humiliation that is, to this day, crippling. I can’t stand not being good enough so anything that makes me uncomfortable? I avoid like the plague and that means I miss out on a lot of cool things. No, cheerleading didn’t afflict me with these issues, but it certainly didn’t help as it was this kid’s first foray into sporting.
What an impression it left.
So everybody out there reading this right now? Who has a kid or knows a kid who’s trying something or doing something that they’ve never done before? Who’s extending beyond the limits of their comfort zone and participating in life? Lighten up on the trophy thing. Encourage don’t diminish. Be a positive influence, not some child’s first introduction to the School of Hard Knocks. Dropping the anvil on a kid’s head is not a badge of honor. And giving one tall, fat, gangly kid a participation trophy in no way diminishes the achievements of your superstar athlete kid, cause trust me, next to my awkward ass your kid’s going to look absolutely fantastic. You don’t need ALL the statues–yes, even the rinky dink ones–to confirm what you can see with your own eyes.
Or, if you do, the problem ain’t the tall, fat, gangly kid in the first place.