Letters to the Magazine editor

September 19, 2010

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Winning and Losing Neil Swidey’s story on kids and the anti-competition movement, “What We Lose When Everybody Wins” (August 22), misses something important – the pro-competition movement that’s thriving in many upper-middle-class communities. I’ve spent four years studying more than 100 elementary school-age children who play chess and soccer and dance competitively. A lucrative industry has developed around these activities, sustained by parental anxiety that their children will fall behind if they don’t participate. Many affluent parents are raising kids to acquire skills that will eventually add up to a thick admissions envelope. What happens to those who aren’t so privileged to learn those lessons at a young age?

Hilary Levey / Cambridge

I’ll always be thankful for my son’s first travel soccer coaches when he was 10. Their philosophy was that if the team worked hard and worked together, they’d win a reasonable number of games. Sportsmanship was paramount, and the goal was to improve their performance. My son would come off the field happy, even though his team had lost, because “this time we lost 2 to 1 and last time they beat us 5 to 0.” Losing was a way to learn what you needed to improve, not the end of the world. That is coaching and competition at its finest.

Betsy Latham / Groveland

Years ago, when our kids played Little League, I was taken by a sign at the Newton Centre Playground field. To paraphrase, it said that all who play on this field are winners. As an adviser to large companies in hypercompetitive markets, I had mixed feelings about this message. It didn’t reflect the real world kids would be entering. In truth, all who play on these fields are competitors and should be congratulated for their willingness to compete. But not everyone is a winner – neither on that field nor in the real world.

Rob Davis / Newton

Head-to-head competition is rarely the problem. Kids know who “won,” no matter what you do. However, most don’t keep track of wins long term, unless there are league standings to follow. So keep score for each game, but eliminate league standings so that results don’t mean anything beyond that specific day.

Richard Pinto / New York

I’m a former US Army officer and Airborne Ranger who spent years striving to replicate that “win-at-all-costs” attitude in the business world. Eventually I realized competition is futile. One can easily see this in a yoga class. The bigger question is, isn’t competition a mandatory part of the capitalistic system? If a significant portion of the capitalistic society were noncompetitive, the system would collapse. In a capitalistic nation-state, competition for markets and raw materials inevitably leads to imperial wars and colonization. Until the system itself is changed, competition is here to stay.

Joey B. King / La Vergne, Tennessee

Swidey wrote that after the sand castle competition, the girls “came away dejected . . . they couldn’t handle it when the winner was somebody else.” I think it’s perfectly reasonable for them to be unhappy that they lost. That is if, after a reasonable amount of time, they overcome it and move on. They were learning an important lesson in how to deal with losing, and they probably gained more from the experience than the ones who won.

Robert Housman / Brookline

My colleagues around the country and I must now deal with the fruit of Alfie Kohn’s experiment as we hire and supervise the first generation raised under his theory that competition is bad. I call them the “everyone gets a trophy kids.” They need constant encouragement, expect accolades for completing routine tasks, and respond poorly to correction or criticism. I try to screen for this behavior by looking for those who have played organized sports beyond elementary school or overcome some adversity.

Holly Polglase / Winchester

North Shore Cheers I was very disappointed to read Ed Siegel’s piece on the North Shore Music Theatre (Perspective, August 22). Why shouldn’t Bill Hanney and his staff choose “safe offerings”? If the theater can’t support itself first, there will never be any opportunities to produce “more engaging and adventurous efforts.” Give the place a chance to walk again before it tries to run.

Alexandra MacAaron / Marblehead

I love the North Shore Music Theatre. I’m sorry Siegel doesn’t quite approve, but then maybe he didn’t see what I just saw: an almost full house for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The teen I brought loved the whole thing. I’m glad you’re back, North Shore! And I hope you go again, Mr. Siegel.

Mary Taylor / Concord

I served as the assistant producer at North Shore Music Theatre under artistic director Jon Kimbell. Many fingers can be pointed at NSMT’s earlier closure, but the biggest culprit was the economy’s impact on the ticket buyers. Like it or not, theater is a luxury product – and the market is very unstable. In this type of environment, theaters need to program toward their core audience. I applaud Hanney’s choices, and I hope he has many years of producing popular musicals that sell tickets.

Matt Kidd / Malden

I managed a musical ensemble in Boston for 13 years, so I understand that artistic excellence is really all that matters to a critic. It’s not the only consideration, though, for time-challenged families on a budget. I just took my three children to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at North Shore Music Theatre. Was it cutting edge? Of course not. Did we have a fabulous time? Yes. It was an affordable, thoroughly enjoyable outing for the whole family.

Ann Marie Lindquist / Lexington

As a former critic, Ed Siegel has the right to dis the reincarnation of this theater to a large Boston Globe audience, I suppose. However, as a 34-year subscriber, I’d like to say that Joseph rivaled Abyssinia and Memphis. Give the theater its due – a chance!

Jennine D. Zito / Peawbody

  • September 19, 2010 cover
  • Sept. 19 Magazine cover