Exploring The 'We're All Winners' Concept

Based on a post I made in the thread, From Bill’s Blog: Merits Of Replacing Bronze Participation Medals, I thought it might be interesting to explore this concept a little more fully by creating a new thread rather than hijacking the participation medals thread.

This is the post I made. During the course of the season, there is a lot of discussion in CD, and also at different events, about the overuse of the term, Gracious Professionalism. I pay attention to the discussion and listen very carefully to examples that people use when talking about the overuse. Usually, I determine that the way the term is being used is distorted, such as using it as a judgment against someone. That is a whole nuther discussion that we can certainly find plenty of threads about in CD already. One concept that I think is not only overused but misused is, ‘we are all winners’, when it comes to FIRST teams. Initially, I didn’t have a problem with it but after participating in several FIRST events and watching the reactions of students to that statement, I have given it a lot of thought, or at least begun to.

Here are a couple of examples:

At an FLL tournament a couple of years ago, I volunteered as a hall monitor, helping to keep things orderly, quiet, and on time, moving the teams in and out of the judges rooms according to the schedule. That is an excellent position to volunteer for. You learn a lot about the demands placed on a team and the amount of work they put into competing for the different awards. You also have the opportunity to watch the reactions of the teams as they exit the judges room. If things went well, they are enthusiastic and excited, pleased with how it went. If things did not go as smoothly as they would have liked, the teams are usually quiet, tense, sometimes very emotional. That’s when mentors play a big role in keeping the team on track and intact. And that was when I first started noticing that the, ‘we’re all winners’ statement seemed weird when said to a group of young children who wanted to do their best but something went wrong and they were sad or emotional. The words rang hollow, given the stakes and the effort the team had put in. The mentors who said, hang in there, we still have the rest of the competition, or we did our best, let’s see how it goes - seemed to be more truthful and realistic and the teams responded better in the hallways to those words of encouragement.

Another example was an FTC tournament that I participated in as a judge this past year. The teams knew when they were prepared for their time with the judges. They also knew when they were not prepared. After talking with one such group, it was time for a quick break and in the hallway, I overheard a mentor saying, “It’s ok, we’re all winners anyway.”

Being a member of a FIRST team doesn’t offer us a sense of entitlement and it can create a slippery slide of a slope if we start bandying that statement around in foolish, casual, or silly ways. The teams and the individuals who make up the teams have an enormous amount of opportunities made available to them on the competition level, in their career paths and choices, and in their educational pursuits. Doors open and stay open but the individuals have to commit to walk through the doors they choose, in order to take full advantage of the opportunities offered - as does the team.

In my opinion, the wisdom, curiosity, and determination of the mentors makes a big difference on whether the concept, ‘we are all winners’, is valid, misused, distorted, or explained. Time should be taken to explain the thinking and philosophy that lends its truth to the statement just as time should be taken to share the vision and potential of the term, Gracious Professionalism. Through my participation in some FIRST events and seeing the impact of the wise use or the misuse of the statement, ‘we are all winners’, on young people, I don’t quite buy into it as a blanket statement for a FIRST team. Achievement carries much more weight. At the end of the day, a discussion regarding what was achieved and what was learned, explored, figured out - is much more real to young people if they haven’t won or garnered an award in the competition.


I think I like this discussion already. Two things come to my mind immediately.

  1. Being less than truthful to students, even with the best of intentions, is usually a very bad idea. Defining “success” with and for your team and dealing with disappointment (and success) “in the moment” are two difficult and exceedingly important tasks for team mentors/leaders to grapple with each year. In many ways I see these tasks as being very pivotal in our overall effort to change the culture.

  2. Woodie consistently talks about “hard problems” and the fact that this is not supposed to be “sticky sweet” as well. Sugar coating things too much is clearly not the intention or vision set forth by our best minds.

I could spew for hours, perhaps days on these items, but I’ll let it rest with one final thought. I think, in a perfect world, all teams would consider carefully their people/team/community development model. After some training and work a few years ago, I’m a huge advocate of the “restorative” model as set forth by the IIRP here:
http://www.iirp.org/whatisrp.php - pay careful attention to the “social discipline window” in fig 1 and you’ll begin to understand how it all fits.

To me guiding principles and philosophies should always determine how we do business/make decisions in life. Carry on all, I’m certainly interested in reading…

I see this argument as one that is similar to one of those age old arguments that doesn’t really have a “correct” side.

  • If you look at the greater scope of the competition, we are indeed ALL winners. Each teenager who walks away from an event has had a unique experience, and most likely one that he/she is going to learn from. Jane, you say that the FTC team’s coach said “we’re all winners” and I can’t blame him/her. It might have been the beginning of the day, and the coach just wanted to get the team excited about the rest of the day.

I truly believe in the fact that we’re all winners, in the greater scope. Students learn valuable skills that will help them in the real world. These skills go beyond building and CADing, and these skills are extremely valuable.

  • But on the other hand, I can see what an abuse of the phrase can do. If people keep strong on the belief that we are all winners, then some teams become conceited and don’t recognize the room for improvement. Even on my own team, I see that there is a small group of students are who CONSTANTLY looking to improve our program and improve our robot, while there is another group of students who are content with what we have and the idea with “we are all winners”.

In short: I believe that this term has it’s importance. If we emphasize the point of winning over what truly matter, then core values of FIRST will deteriorate. But if this term is overused, it can cause the standard of FIRST of deteriorate.

I definitely see your point that using “We’re all winners” as a way to uplift student’s spirits at the end of a competition can cause some problems, especially if it’s used as an excuse.

Perhaps what mentors should say is something about all the accomplishments the team has made at that competition/season. It personalizes the statement, being able to say things like “For the first time, we did X, Y, Z.” or “We worked X amount of hours and learned Y amount of things, and had so much fun doing these things.” That’s one thing that I particularly try to do.

However, it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter how many medals or trophies a team brings home to consider itself a winner. To me, a “losing” team can be just as much a winner as a “winning” team. They can accomplish the same thing–teaching responsibility, a passion for science, technology, and other facets. They both can help students grow in a way that they might not have grown without being a part of FIRST. Doesn’t that make us all winners of life? Winners of learning? So why not say so?

An example: Last year, my team had lots of trouble with their robot at their regional. We lost many matches. We placed second to last. But you wouldn’t have guessed that. Those students kept a smile on their face. They worked their butts off on that robot during the build season and during the competition. They didn’t give up when the going got tough; it just made them work that much harder. They cheered for themselves. They cheered for other teams. And they had an absolutely great time doing it. So yeah, I’m going to call them winners. And yes, I might be wrong in doing that. But in my eyes, those students ARE winners, in every sense of the word.

Jane, thanks for starting this thread. You’ve explained everything very well, whereas I can imagine a lot of ways this could turn into conflict. I do think this concept needed its own space for discussion.

On it’s own, “we’re all winners” doesn’t mean much. It’s an empty and meaningless phrase if applied as compensation for a team’s lack of high ranking. However, there is much more to success and to FIRST than how high you place at a competition. Did your team meet your goals in building your robot, did your team members learn something new, did the program push individuals to personal growth and new values, have your team members been inspired? All of these things are signs of success, and if these things happen, then yes, you can consider yourself winner in some sense. Is “we’re all winners” the best way to explain this? Not really. Some of the other things adults have said like “you tried your best and we’re proud of you for that” and direct statements addressing the positive achievements are much better substitutes. Winning is best used for the black-and-white concept of first place, whereas specific and meaningful statements are better used to describe achievements like “this is the fastest robot we have ever built”, or “we finally made an autonomous mode that does what we want it to”, or “we were able to spread our inspiration to our community this season”.

I would like to comment on the word success for a moment.

Many teams, and many individuals define success differently. But to me it always means achieving the personal goals I set out at the start of the season. That is how I determine whether or not a season was a success. If it was not I must then go back and reevaluate why I didn’t succeed. Keep in mind that winning is not a goal, winning is something that may occur if you meet your goals. I have had several successful seasons in FRC, and some not so successful ones.

For example I will use my experience at this years Kettering Event. The team I was with at the time struggled all build season so our first goal was to move. We met that goal. After that the next goal was to move in auton, check. Then was to score a moon rock using the robot, check. To me that is a successful event. For anyone who cares, we didn’t even play in the afternoon. But I was content with our performance. THAT was a success to me. (Robot wise there were some other things I wasn’t too happy with but for the sake of this argument we can ignore those)

Our team went away feeling like they accomplished something, none of them knew that they got medals for it (we distribute them at the end of year gathering) We never had to tell them they were winners, they had done something that 8 weeks prior they thought they would never do. Frankly they didn’t care if we ended up in 1st place or in 40th place.

My point is, this notion that we need to say that just by participating the kids are winners doesn’t work. That is setting a goal far too low for some people. Let teams decide their own goals and their own metrics of success.

What is “winning”?

Is it achieving the highest possible recognition at an event? If so, only a handful of us win every year.

Is it achieving your own personal and/or collective goals for yourself and your team? If so, many of us win and some of us do not.

Is it coming out better for having participated than had we not? If so, then yes, we are all winners.

Jane - Hat’s off to you for starting this thread. It addresses a situation that many of us mentors have to deal with.

I think often it is not what you say but when you say it that makes the difference. Knowing your team and their personalities is also important. After a resounding defeat, it may be best to walk off the field and say nothing. That said, I think it is important to discuss the situation and determine how to avoid it in the future. While it might be better to delay that discussion somewhat you don’t want to wait too long. Again, the real issue is timing.

My personal belief is that the true winners are those who use the challenges of the game to improve themselves socially and professionaly. FIRST is built around this concept but we still manage to get bogged down with wins and losses. Note that I said “we” :slight_smile:

Great thread, and excellent thoughts Jane! I think your explanation of the “we’re all winners” philosophy touches on a word that sums up what it really means: Complacency. If people are content to think what they’ve accomplished is all they are capable of, they may lose the drive to push farther and excel beyond expectations. If goals are set and achieved, it doesn’t always mean mission accomplished. It just means it’s time to set higher goals.

The powerhouse teams like 1114, 217, 111, 71, etc. aren’t complacent with winning everything under the sun. They come back every year with an increased drive to improve, and set the bar ever higher. Winning doesn’t necessarily mean coming home with a medal, trophy, or banner, but with the need to keep pushing for more regardless of outcome.

If everyone walks away from FIRST with the desire to excel without complacency, or without feeling like something is “good enough” with no room for improvement, then indeed everyone is a winner.

Winning a competition is not everything. We can’t all be winners in that sense, either–only 3 teams per event can be.

Winning an award at a competition is not everything. Again, we can’t all be winners in this sense, unless there is a real award for everyone.

Clearly, in competition terms, “we are all winners” is a lie. You really don’t want to lie to a kid, do you? They’ll know it.

If, however, we set a goal, achieve it, and set a newer, harder one, then we have won. We have beaten a challenge, and yet we now have another one. The bar is being raised. Every time we go over the bar, whether we do it alone or with others helping, we win. That is how we are all winners, and that is when the phrase should be used. If a team has the worst record at an event, fights through problems all three days, and still achieves all their team objectives, then they have won, even if they don’t get anything for it.

First off, I really like this thread.

When I brought up the comment in the cited thread Jane was talking about, I was being pretty sarcastic about buying into the whole “we’re all winners” saying.

Eric and Jane put into word what I feel after a competition. “We’re all winners” is hollow, but as long as I fulfill my own goal, I have succeeded.

Students, in my opinion, grow a bitterness about things that are “frilled” or “fluffed up.” I think that sometimes we all just want the truth, something realistic, something without a romanticized or philosophical meaning.

Then again, I guess that it is true that it all comes down to what you believe is winning, success, or failure, as some of the previous posters stated.

I don’t think everyone is a winner. I also don’t think winning is receiving a trophy or beating everyone else in a regional for an award or for the competition, though.

Basically, whether or not one has succeeded at what they decided to do determines whether or not you are a “winner”. If you’re proud of your robot, put more effort into your team than you ever thought possible, and accomplished something, then if you feel comfortable calling yourself a winner by all means do so. It’s not really anyone’s decision outside of your own if you’ve succeeded or not, other than the literal definitions of success that FIRST rewards.

There are different metrics of success and, while the word ‘winner’ is likely a misnomer, I think everyone that participates in the program is a winner insofar as they’re better for having been involved.

When viewed as a competition, nearly all teams fail, most spectacularly so. If you value other awards equal to or better than winning any event with your robot, even then very few teams are successful.

If you consider those that have participated in a program like FIRST against those that have not, I think our kids are definitely the winners there. They’ve been given access to amazing people that want little more than to help guide them to success. They acquire skills that many others will not have until long after they graduate college and, perhaps most importantly, most recognize the value of those opportunities.

I don’t think that anyone expects the participation medals to be valued as much as gold or silver or a trophy within the context of the FIRST community. I think the participation medals are instead intended to generate curiosity and discussion among ‘outsiders,’ and to bring new people to the program. For that purpose, they can be very valuable.

However, if participants in the program – especially its most vocal, well-informed and enthusiastic – treat participation medals as a condescending gesture or consolation prize, their value in generating interest among the public is diminished.

Were someone to ask about your participation medals, you might say, “Everyone gets them,” or you might say, “I build robots. Do you?” One of these responses is the right one. :wink:

I’m reminded of watching our local version of Bozo the Clown long ago. He always had prizes for Winners and “Almost Winners”. Even way back then, we knew the latter category was really “Losers”, or at least, “Not Winners”.

Regarding Jane’s FLL experience, it could be that the coach was simply trying to buck up morale. Or it could be that his statement was factual - if they were at a state-level tournament that everyone had to qualify for at local events, they had already demonstrated that they were winners. In that sense, every team at the Michigan State Championships this year were already winners, at least qualifiers. Maybe not #1 position, but within the top X teams in the state. (And I know there’s some who say that particular “X” is too large in MI, but that’s another argument.) Another example of winners are those who qualified to the Championship through regionals.

In the broader sense though, everyone who participates in any meaningful way has won something. Many others have given examples of that in this thread. It may be trite to call everyone who has achieved something a winner. But we need to recognize all the achievements, not just the top winners. I think that’s the purpose of the participation awards, whether they be medals or pins. It’s not to say, “We’re giving you this bronze award because you’re in third place behind gold and silver.” Rather, it is to recognize teams that have had some achievement and success in the build and competition season, no matter what scale that is measured with.

I think it can go back to the timing aspect, as emersont49 wisely pointed out earlier, when talking with young children, and even with teens, who are totally absorbed in the current competition. This is where taking the time to prep the team and also to educate the team and its supporters in the, how did Kres say it… - guiding principles - of the FIRST program and of the team, itself, becomes valuable. Also, taking the time as a mentor to think about these guiding principles and how they apply as a whole and then share that thought process with the other mentors and with the team in ways they can understand. A young FLL student is not going to have the same understanding as a graduating senior on a FRC team.

Regarding the medal discussion that is joining in with this one… the participation medals have honored the time spent together, competing and celebrating the experience each season. Whether we move forward with cool pins or with medals or with both, they will still do the same thing - reflect the participation of the person wearing them as a FIRSTer. There’s nothing wrong with that. :slight_smile:

I think that a lot of this hinges on whether succeeding is the same thing as winning? If the two are synonymous then everyone who completed their goals (personal or team) for the season is a winner. If winning is limited to getting a trophy, or highest seed, or being a finalist then there are significantly fewer winners.

On a related note, I also feel that telling people that everyone’s a winner is totally unnecessary in the vast majority of circumstances. Quite frankly, the teams who don’t win in the traditional sense, but meet or surpass their personal/team goals don’t need to be told that they are winners. They already know it. Conversely, the teams who don’t fare well, and are thoroughly discouraged over their performance are not going to be convinced that “everyone’s a winner” whether it’s true or not.

“You must spread some Reputation around before giving it to Madison again.”

I think winning is like GP, its for each to decide on their own.

If at the end of the day, I feel like I won…I did. If I feel like I lost, I did. If this is true, what is the point in winning? Why don’t we set really low goals just to feel like we won? Because, if we set goals too low, it doesn’t matter if we achieve them. Most of us will still feel like losers.

If I ‘win’ a trophy through an underhanded move, I lost. But if I ‘lose’ for doing the right thing, I won.

Winning can only be accessed by the individual. Some may choose to use trophies as a measurement tool. Others choose learning. While some of us just choose to go with the moral goals.

The notion of “we’re all winners” is largely flawed because it places one person judging the success or failure of another without regards to the individuals goal.

And for those of you who may wonder, my goals in FIRST are simple:

  1. Teach
  2. Motivate
  3. Watch
  4. Have fun
  5. Be a role model

If I feel I accomplished one of these goals in a season, I succeeded. If I accomplish all 5, I win.

You can’t learn half the lessons FIRST has to teach if you aren’t competing. In my mind, telling everyone they are “winners” takes away a lot from the competition and the fun.

Everyone learns, everyone benefits, everyone has a good overall experience, but it doesn’t mean everone “wins.” When I am playing a sport and I’m told by an adult that “everybody wins,” I’m inclined to belive that everybody lost. Nobody learned about healthy, gracious and proffessional competition and nobody had the joy of winning.

FIRST kids aren’t dumb, as a matter of fact, they’re pretty smart. If you tell them “hey you missed eliminations and didn’t get any awards, but you’re still a winner,” not only will they not believe you, but it won’t help them in any way. Saying everybody wins doesn’t help the actual loser, and it only makes the winners feel like they didn’t truly accomplish anything.

Frankly, my team was terrible at the Boston regional this year, I was not a happy camper. I certainly wasn’t a “winner,” but that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn any thing, or have fun during the build season. Not everything has to be coated in fluff, if you lose, lose and you have to deal with it.

FIRST is great because even if you lose at the competition, you still learn a lot and it’s really fun.

I think it is helpful to consider the distinctions between “accomplishment”, “success”, and “winning”.

In FIRST, everybody that participates in good faith has accomplished somthing important. If they met their personal and team goals, they were successful. Only a few of these accomplished, successful participants will be winners. In my opinion, the accomplishment and success are more valuable than winning, but winning should always remain a goal.

Nobody would say that all graduating students are valedictorians. By the same token, it would be wrong to imply that non-valedictorians are losers. Don’t diminish “accomplishment” by limiting the definition of “success” to “winning”.

Regarding the participation medals vs. pins (another thread): I would rather have a pin or something to commemorate my “accomplishment” in each specific game, than a generic medal that pretended to make me feel like a “winner”. Actually, I would like to have a cool game T-shirt that I could wear any time. That would also be a good advertising, too.:smiley: