Sunday, August 17, 2008

Winning isn't everything

Joshua Gans is 'over the moon' because his daughter won a sports event. With some qualifications he asserts winning is everything. Its a very American attitude and one I don't agree with particularly in relation to kids sport where I think the key objective for the vast majority of kids is to participate - to enjoy participating in a healthy activity. Assuming Joshua's type of elation feeds back into the incentives influencing sports participation decisions by youth it seems to me unhealthy for those who don't really need to win and don't in fact win. The key reward from sport is to the individual in terms of enhanced individual physical potentiality not their ability to rank themselves ahead of other competitors.

Nor, for that matter, am I overly concerned with the signalling function of education - the important issue is to add value not to order students 1,2,...N. Again the ordering is irrelevant because it does not map into something that reflects significant value in any field of life. From an individualistic perspective the point is to realise individual potential not to be ahead of the other guy.

For the same reasons I try not to be particularly interested in social star rankings based on power and wealth. Trying to have more money than the next guy is the source of 'rat race' externalities in work effort while the pursuit of power helps create that class of psychopaths who have miserable lives (they can never be happy themselves) and impose misery on their subordinates in business and administration.

Winning isn't everything. The point is to enjoy yourself - to realise your own potential - and not to concern yourself unduly with how you compare with others in terms of running races - either sporting or economic. This is, of course, an ideal and difficult to achieve.

13 comments:

Joshua Gans said...

Harry, I think you are taking me way too seriously.

That said, I am not convinced that a parent could credibly deny that they got utility when their child actually won.

conrad said...

When did you become a post-modernist?

Of course the order of things is important in many cases (as is adding value), and not just for winner-take-all areas. Go ask the company director that formed the monopoly, or the top student who got the top graduate job or perhaps scholarship for further study (don't you just count down the list for PhD scholarships? If you don't, you're the exception -- we're constantly asked for the rank order of our honors students). How else do you expect people to distinguish the almost undistinguishable?

In my books, the main problem in many cases is the validity and reliability of the measures.

jc said...

When did you become a post-modernist?

Exactly.

Harry, you've changed. The littlest things set you off.

davidp said...

A parent may get utility from when their child wins in sports. But, perhaps, the reason school sport is a spectator (for parents or even others) sport is because of its insignificance. It is possible to run academic-oriented sports (spelling bees?) in an entertaining (in the way school sports are) way, but the results are probably too correlated with post-school economic performance to be entertaining for parents whose kids don't perform well. This doesn't hold for sports results - in nearly all cases school sports stars don't make their living from sport.

P.S. can only think of one recent Rhodes Scholar who turned out to be a top performer in sport - Mike Fitzpatrick who was an excellent ruckman and captain for Carlton in AFL (then VFL) the 1970s (they were a good team then too :) ) Are there any others?

Spiros said...

Every parent derives huge pleasure when their kids win a sport's event, especially if they never won any themselves. (This is not a comment on Joshua who might have been the Michael Phelps of his day for all I know.)

This is harmless. What is extremely harmful is parents showing disapproval if their kids don't win, abusing referees, lording over the parents of kids who don't win and generally making sports out to be more important than they are.

Spiros said...

davidp

You forgot about Byron White http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byron_White

who played in the NFL and later became a US Supreme Court Justice.

Yobbo said...

Again the ordering is irrelevant because it does not map into something that reflects significant value in any field of life.


It reflects on your ability to gain entry to the University course of your choice, at least in Australia.

Yobbo said...

Of course a big reason you want your kids to win at sports is that those kids will be happier at school.

Kids who are good at sports = popular kids. Kids who are bad at sports but deep thinkers get beat up.

Spiros said...

"Kids who are bad at sports but deep thinkers get beat up."

But later in life they get to boss around the kids who beat them up.

davidp said...

Hi Spiros,

That is a striking story about Byron White (though was the NFL less professionalized then?).

I agree with your comment about the problems with sport with kids. Maybe those parents need to be told ... Even if parents know, the kids may not appreciate it. Am personally glad I went to a school (Eltham High in the late 1970s/early 80s) where sport wasn't a big thing.

My comment came in part from thinking about the question why are there public school sports and less public academic-oriented competitions?

I also wondered about the Rhodes Scholars because the conditions specifically required some sort of sporting prowess.

James Dudek said...

If you think winning is everything is a VERY American attitude, you probably didn't play much sport growing up in Australia.

Underarm in the World Series of Cricket anyone?

christine said...

"But later in life they get to boss around the kids who beat them up."

Though it's nice to believe in such reversals, sadly I suspect that this is just not true. From what I can tell, people in managerial positions look a lot like the kids who were popular in high school.

Anonymous said...

«"But later in life they get to boss around the kids who beat them up."»

«people in managerial positions look a lot like the kids who were popular in high school.»

Because as English public schools have always realized, to make money and gain power means rising in some existing organization, and then it is much more important to be good at politics (being popular, being ruthless, being driven) than to be competent or capable.

Perhaps competence and capability matter in a minority of cases, typically where companies or other orgs are created from scratch and they have a chance to compete on the merits with older organizations.

Sure, the nerds have made a lot of money in the past few decades, but in fields like sw where climbing an existing power hierarchy was not essential, because it was an entirely new market where there were no pre-existing large organizations.