Winners and losers…

My oldest son is a cub scout. Every year the cub scounts have their pinewood derby race. The scouts and their dads get together and take a block of pine wood and mark a car out of it. You are instructed to add weight to it to make it no more than 5 ounces.

I was a cub scount myself (And Eagle Scout) once and raced my own pinewood derby cars in Las Vegas where I grew up. It is an extremely competitive contest. We would calculate the center of gravity for the weights, sand the plastic tires and nails that we used as axles. I learned a lot, as I hope my son did as we made his car together.

One thing he didn’t learn was how to be a winner or a loser. To make all the cub scouts feel good about the event they no longer have 1st, 2nd, etc. Instead the scouts race their cars many times and have a good time, but no one wins. The same is true for my other son’s baseball games. He is only 7, but they don’t allow the teams to keep score for his basketball team or his baseball team.

Life is about successes and failures, and both are very useful. We don’t learn to do better until we first learn that we didn’t do good enough the first time. It bothers me immensely when society tries to teach us that it is bad to win if someone has to lose.

Just think if I told our hosting customers that we made a good effort on giving you good hosting platform, but it might not work, but we hope it does. That attitude would put us out of business in a month. We work in the real world where everyone of us have to live – even our children. Don’t run from failure, but use it for what it was intended for, to learn to pick yourself up and do better next time.

PS – If you need pinewood derby tips go to some other website – My son’s car was in the top 20% for speed, but didn’t get #1 – No one got #1 😉


Matt Heaton /

32 Responses to “Winners and losers…”

  1. Hercules says:

    Wasn´t no winners or losers something called communism? :)

  2. Dave says:

    Hi Matt,

    This is my first read of your blog. I was recommend to it by a friend as I have finally started my own.

    Reading this I was reminded of how with my son (3yr old) I always ensure that if we have a race he doesn’t win every time or that if we build a lego tower and it falls we work together to make it a better one.

    I agree with you failure itself is not a bad thing only walking away from it is.



  3. Tero says:

    Although I agree that people should learn to win (and lose), and think competition can also be fun in addition to useful, I also think that there probably is enough competition in the world already, and it’s also important to teach the kids that everything doesn’t have to be about winning or losing. Not keeping score of 7-year-olds’ baseball games sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

    …the cub scout race without the competition, on the other hand, just sounds silly and missing the whole point somehow. I don’t see any harm of having a competition for those who want to participate – and that doesn’t prevent anyone from learning from the building process, or racing their cars as many times as they want without competing.

  4. Alvin says:

    I agree with you. We should always strive for number 1. Being the best isn’t all that hard… If you can sustain… Your son is so lucky to have a father like you! :-)

  5. greg says:

    nice point hercules.

    I remember those days of the pinewood derby. I too am an Eagle Scout(two palms also). My den built a new track one year along with our cars. That was a heck of a lot of fun.

  6. Wes says:

    It depends on how the children handle success and failure though. Gradual introduction to these two vital concepts will make them good losers and humble winners in future and that they will know that you don’t necessarily have to win at all costs.

  7. Powell says:

    Been a long time reader/customer of yours. I have to completely agree with everything you said. The reason why there is always new and exciting technology, and why people strive to be successful is because those people are trying to be number one, they are trying to win. If we did not try to beat the next guy we would not have all the tech advancements that we have today! Competition is essential in my opinion.

  8. Dave Syzdek says:

    I think all the comments about winning and losing have been made.

    However, I have to ask what Pack and Troop were you in? As a Las Vegas native, I got my Eagle in Troop 133 in 1989. My brothers got their Eagles in Troop 133 in 1972 and 1973. Anyway, I’m just wondering. BTW, I never won the Pinewood Derby but I was very proud of my fist place in the Raingutter Regatta!

  9. B says:

    Your view is correct, even if it is not accepted. I catch a lot of flack over stuff like this. I have gone as far as to keep score before at get togethers, and church events.

    No doubt there is enough competition in the world, probably too much.. But if we do not bring up our children that this is a way of life, we cripple them in their future. Our fathers/grandfathers competed madly over almost everything and you can see how in their time, things were really competitive, but at the same point vast improvements were made in almost all areas of life. I wonder where a generation of ppl who think it is just glad to be here will lead our society/country/world?…

  10. dk says:

    What’s the problem with focusing on performance, teamwork, following the rules, and ethics/fairplay? Those things often get lost when the sole goal is winning or survival of the fittest. That’s not to say there aren’t things to be learned in competitive sports. Seems to me it can only be a good thing to expose a child to a variety of situations and learning experiences.

    Children are not born with the ability to distinguish between simply losing a game, personal failure/ “I’m not good enough.” Survival of the fittest. It’s hardcoded into all of us. I hate losing exponentially more than I enjoy winning.

    Adults (like me apparently!) often do not understand the difference (or believe there is one!) and therefore can not teach this to their children.

    That said, I suspect has little to do with teaching kids values and everything to do with those parents who murder other’s over kid’s sports.

    Just a thought.

  11. Jonathan says:

    Hey Matt,

    I think a new challenge for you is to try to understand why a zero-sum game bothers you so much. This is the perfect opportunity for some lateral thinking, and I agree with Dave who says that “failure itself is not a bad thing only walking away from it is.” I’m very certain there are business models out there that don’t necessarily preclude a loser: Nike, Coca-Cola, and Giffard’s clothing line are all examples of win-lose business models. Google, on the other hand, I think has done a great job of nothing keeping their eyes on the prize but their eyes on the future–amazing progress in the development of information systems.

    So, to say that competition is an intrinsic value in the world, I think, is a common misconception. Some of us choose the progress at the expense of others and some of us choose to make progress with the help of others. The question is: who will you be? Nike or Google?

  12. Jonathan says:

    If you could edit that last comment and put “not” where “nothing keeping their eyes on the prize” would be great. I’m a grammar nut, and it’s too early in the morning to be writing.

  13. Todd says:

    This is becoming more and more common in this country. Learning to accept failure and defeat is a very important part of growing up. In reality and in life, not everyone wins. I suggest you find your son a different baseball league, where there are actual winners and losers. He’ll thank you for it when he’s older.

  14. Denise says:

    Hi Matt,
    I agree that we do need to learn to deal with winning and loosing. And I don’t think there would be such a problem, if the parents would learn how to ‘win’ and ‘loose’. Just about every sporting event I’ve gone to for children, there is at least one parent (and usually more) who is so bent on their child ‘winning’ that they ruin it for everyone else. We have some how forgotten that playing, no matter what you are doing, is supposed to be ‘fun’. Just my 2 cents…..

  15. Elliot says:

    By taking out the ranking of the competition he will try something that he is unfamiliar with, but have no shame in his work if it fails. If the car tanked your child would recognize that, but without an official rank he may not feel as bad. Then hopefully next time he will try to develop a better result, obviously for the bragging rights.

  16. Parker says:

    BTDT with the Pinewood — it’s very exciting, for moms too. When my son (now 11) competed, they definitely had winners. Unfortunately, he won #1 in his den the first year he competed. I say unfortunately because that set him up for crushing disappointment thereafter. We went to the district(?) competition after that and he was knocked out very early on. The next year, his car was voted “most unique design” but didn’t win, nor the following year. Watching your child learn to lose gracefully and to hold back the tears is probably harder on parents than on the boys, but I agree that it builds character. Of course, we have the Red Sox for that. The first year my son really followed the team, bam! they win the World Series. Uh oh.

  17. Is it about win-loss or succeed-fail?

    Yeah, I think there should be a Grand Champion for the pinewood derby too, and I don’t think that is asking too much. Someone should go to the winners circle. But, there’s something to the thought that everyone whose model car made it down the ramp deserves to celebrate a level of “success”. Most importantly, and I think this is where we agree, those whose car didn’t make it down the ramp need to learn something about the “pain of defeat”! That’s a lesson we seem to be neglecting for some reason. I’m not sure I understand why.

    Thanks for supporting Scouting!

  18. Edward says:

    Hi, Matt

    Thanks for your blog, as well as your fine service, from a new BlueHost user.

    As I also was once a Scout, who was fortunate enough to “win” (the Eagle), I still remember how proud my own little troop was of me being their first. In those days our folk were humble and good hearted (and still are there). A win, any win, was to be celebrated together, as in one-for-all, all-for-one. That feeling remained with me all my life, and I would like to see it more often. Today like most of us I work very hard to win, but I still remember those days as scouts who won together. I do hope we never really lose all that, or the occasion for it. May you and yours win, and celebrate many wins.



  19. cmc says:

    Very good point about winning and loosing.

    There is no shame in loosing, as long as something is learned in the process.

    I understand that these days it is thought that by not calling a winner or looser we are protecting people (kids) from being labled a looser and that they should concentrate on the experiance.

    Not sure if I agree…

    Experiance is good, success is good, failure is good because you become keenly aware of why you ended up in that position. Learning, growing, trying and doing is good too.

    Frankly I like to root for the underdog, but I like to buy from a winner, and I like to hang out with some loosers. Because one looses it does not necessarily say anything about a persons character, just maybe something about thier skills.


  20. Thomas says:

    Seems to me that everyone needs to know that it doesnt matter if you win or lose as long as you do better than everyone else. Wait that means you need to win to know that it doesnt matter that you won. Ah well. Lets just teach our kids to be the best they can be and to win if they can and if they cant win they should just become politicians. I mean if theyre gonna suck at least put them somewhere where their suckiness wont make a difference either way.

  21. Mark says:

    I’m of the opinion that if kids cannot have fun WHILE winning or losing, than there is a deeper influence coming from their parents (or peers) that the point of the exercise is to win. In my experiences, the over-competitive spirits were always the parents, not the kids. Usually the kids would just as soon not keep score. In that way, the whole idea of not keeping score is to try to keep the parents off of each others’ necks, not the kids :).

  22. Erin says:

    Disappointed to hear how our society is taking away people’s right to fail. If I didn’t put forth every effort to work hard, I would have failed in my goal to become an Eagle Scout myself. Failure is the best motivator I know to get the best out of people and removing it as an option is a fast route to mediocrity.

    If we can’t learn from our mistakes, we’re left only with our successes. Glad to hear you support your son’s right to fail! He’ll be a better person for it, I’m sure.

  23. Joshua says:

    Yeah, a shame. Of well, I guess the “let’s not have winners and losers” crowd won that battle.

  24. Bob says:

    I can understand what they’re trying to do… but it’s just ironic. By creating a sort of utopia where failure ceases to exist, these very people are destroying future lives. Ok, so that’s putting it to extremes, but it’s true.

    Life is full of failures — and they happen to be the best natural way to learn and grow. I’d rather have these people teach kids how to respond positively to failure, how to see it as opportunity. The absence of failure also means no sense of achievement – after all, if everyone feels “good about themselves”, what more is there to strive for? More importantly, how?

  25. Markus says:


    Having a business myself I’d say I don’t agree with your line of thought. Competitions like races are about being first, fastest etc. but that has not much to do with what is performed there. Like you said, your son had fun in building the car and driving it, why would winning or losing be important, especially if you can have only one winner?

    And it does not even take “failiure” out of the equation. If his car broke down or if you guys were not able to build a car, that would be failiure and I’m sure he’d learn that part of life from it.

    Likewise in business. I’m running a small business and it’s sufficient for me to have fun there, make a good living and have happy customers. My ranking in size, profit or gross in relation to others does not interest me at all. In many fields there is not a better/worse (does Pepsi absolutely taste better than Coke?) just a different and different tastes and demands from customers. Does Pepsi taste different if they’re 2nd or 1st in sales compared to coke? It simply matters not.

    I think in many fields the competition part is simply unnecessary.


  26. BRB says:

    I have coached several under 7 years sports teams and have always taught that if you had fun, then you won. I don’t know if the kids understood what I was trying to teach them, as they all knew what the score was even though no score was being recorded. They knew if they lost or won.

    Life is all about compitition. It is everywhere. If you cant learn to deal with failure as a child, how will you deal with it as an adult?

  27. Leslie Moore says:

    From your syntax I was unable to discern if you were PRO competition or CON. I would state categorically that competition lies at the core of what made this country great. If one has a spiritual center based on Christianity there are many references to racing, and strength, endurance
    I do not have cub scout or Eagle scout experience to draw on personally. However I had the pleasure of sharing the competitive arena with kids near the same age in baseball’s Little league. [this being defined in the era when Little League meant precisely 9-12 years old.]
    During that time of my life I learned what the antagonists to the competitive experience were basing their debate on at least in part. I was ashamed of perhaps the majority of “little league father” coaches as they gave the opposition fodder to fuel the debate. They screamed at the kids, humiliated them, taught them to cheat and generally demonstrated on field as well as off, that anything goes to WIN!
    For me the toughest thing I had to do was coach my own kids with absolute fairness. I was so afraid that the parent’s of other children on the team would try to assert that I was playing my two boys in preference to others due to the fact that they were my sons rather than the fact they earned their positions which ALL nuetral observers and almost ALL the teams member’ss parent’s agreed they did. That fear caused me to be much tougher on my own two boys than other team members.
    Despite that one single fear of mine I was able to inject a pride and enthusiasm in that team [84-86] that is still talked about today. We
    accomplished an .811 winning percentage over two seasons I am
    confident they would tell you we learned more, much more from
    losing than we did winning as we would spend time going over our mistakes after each game [including those we won] and suggest what we might do to as a resolution for the error.
    Ii can tell you these boys went on to win state tournaments in football and I once saw them win a basketball game wwhen they were behind 18 points with only 3.02 in a consolation state tournament game. This in spite of the fact they lost an overtime heartbreaker the night before in the semifinals.
    I will watch to see what response I get to this as I fear some may say I am “blowing my own horn” as my grandfather used to say. The important point, the point i hope I made was, that competition even at the age of 9-12 year olds, can have an enduring positive impact in the development of a team concept. I can report I have had team members approach me as late as last year and relate to me how they feel that our post game sessions [win OR LOSE] did as much to mature them to the value of competitive sports as did anything in their future careers. More than one parent of team members of those years has told me the baseball program has never again seen a coach who instilled in tthe kids a love and respect for the game as I did. This to me was the penultimate compliment since I spent so much time with the kids kicking around just why we lost the games we did and what we might do about it next time.
    Competition in itself is NOT a bad thing. However nothing, NOTHING can be more harmful to a young kid involved in competitive sports, than a self serving coach who tries to assess the blame for a loss as lying on the shoulders of a kid who maybe made an error or struck out at an inopportune time. Anything that paints a LOSS in competitive sports as more than a benchmark to go forward and learn from makes a huge mistake. Finally a GOOD coach takes resposibility for the loss regardless of what may have caused it. In this way he acts as a lightning rod to the undue stigma that will intrinsically arise from the loss and from there a coach is so positioned to utilize the loss as a learning tool
    L Moore

  28. Just turned 69 and I still remember, but don’t remember where I heard it or read it: “Don’t let yesterdays failures Bankrupt tomorrow’s efforts.”

    Love your blog and the people of Utah!

  29. What one pack does is not indicative of what the organization does as a whole. Near as I can tell from BSA information, there is no edict that has come down to eliminate rankings. In fact, a boy cannot advance to regional races without a first place finish. I suppose some packs may have chosen, on their own, to do away with rankings but the organization as a whole still has rankings and advancement built in to just about everything.

    I’m a Liberal and contrary to the spin you hear on Fox and elsewhere, most of us also think eliminating rankings from this or anything else is stupid. The real world does not work that way. In fact as Cubmaster I stopped the tradition of giving trophy’s and ribbons to just about everyone. We did award ribbons though for most creative, funniest and best paint job. I did see some scouts cry after losing but isn’t that part of growing up?

    I can tell you that some losers were more determined to figure out what they needed to do on the next year’s car. Good leaders should also point out that this is a tricky project. There are many competing and often completely wrong theories about what makes a car faster on a given track. Any leader can tell you it’s pretty much a crap shoot as to who wins with the unlikeliest of cars often beating the highly engineered ones. It is however a great opportunity to learn something about physics.

    By the same token we do need to acknowledge that kid’s skills are very different from one another. One kid may be academically smart, one athletic, one better at art or music -I do not believe our schools are set up well to get the best out of every student -especially with standardized testing narrowing the focus of education. But Scouting, with all it’s faults does provide , through merit badges and a variety of other activities, a chance for any Scout to excel. There are even provisions made for special needs kids to advance.

    I have some issues with the intolerance taught by the BSA national leadership but at the pack/troop level this is not really much of an issue. Overall, Scouting provides a unique opportunity for parents and boys to do something together -i.e. you can get in there with him on camping trips and car building but you can’t get out on the football field now can you?!

  30. Mike Bosma says:

    I completely agree with you point of view. I participated in the pine wood derby once, and i remember the disappointment of losing. But i remember learning from it. Similarly i can link this concept to baseball. I never played in a league where the teams did not keep score. The main problem is that parents are worried that their children will not learn to be good sportsmen and women. However, i remember that after each game we were required to line up and shake hands with the other team. That was a vital part of each game. This is where we learned that the other team had lost, and that we had beaten them, but that we still need to recognize their efforts. This is how i attained the humility i hope i display as well as i think I do. Thank you for this blog, i was glad to see a group of people who agreed with me.

  31. Kookie says:

    Failure, yes everyone needs to be able to pick up and move on ….since this applies to all aspects of life. I stayed in a marriage/relationship for 30 years trying to make it work looking at the positive never dwelling on the bad, believing there would always be another day. WRONG I left the marriage 2 years ago and although my life has more day to day happiness and I have a safe home to go to with my Mother. I lost a lot of years and am having a very hard time of it dealing with the nuhmerous failures…….so yes we must have winning and failures all our lives from early in life so that we know when you fail at something year in and year out …cut your losses and try something new! Before it’s too late.

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