“An Empty Wagon Rattles The Loudest”


It is natural for competitors to believe that consistently successful teams are in some way cheating, being shown favoritism or have some hidden advantage. Illogically this paranoia causes some competitors to assume that disinterested judges, umpires, referees, the rules, and opposing coaches are all working together in some hidden cabal to persecute their team or favor another. This phenomenon is most often seen in athletics, but is now creeping into band, chorus, creative problem-solving, and other academic competitions. I have been involved in many academic competitions and have personally have been accused of bias more than once. I have even found myself having to control “trash talking” between both parents and contestants at, of all things, an elementary, beginning level, chess tournament. This lack of honor and awareness of what constitutes sportsmanship is of great concern to me.

I spent a day last weekend judging at a creative problem solving competition. After the competition, as is not uncommon in competitions where subjective decisions must be made, the decisions of the judges were questioned. In this case however erroneous conclusions were jumped to, questions that should have been asked by responsible adults were not asked and loud trash talking (a symbol of our failing society) was the norm. The attacks were aimed at the judges, opposing teams, and the administration of the competition. The attacks, based in mis-understanding spread quickly and as they often do, became illogical, personal and excessive based almost totally on a lack of understanding of what had occurred. It is normal for children and pampered athletes who cannot see their own failings to express their feelings in terms of what everyone else does or did that caused their own failures or the success of others. It is unfortunate when adults condone or facilitate these actions.
In this case some underlying judging guidelines that had actually been designed to increase the happiness and spread the wealth of victory, instead resulted in uninformed misunderstandings and needless accusations.

Suzette Haydn Elgin in “Peacetalk 101,” writes that when confronted with confusing situations we should first figure out, “Of what it could be true.” She points out that we should figure this out before, not after, we start a battle or a campaign of innuendo based on quicksand. In this case, there were too many needlessly upset adults and children, too little thinking, too little listening and absolutely no meaningful clarifying questions asked, followed closely by a lot of loud, openly expressed, knee-jerk reactions based primarily on incomplete knowledge and lack of understanding of what had occurred. Unfortunately, the knee-jerk reactions were first of all wrong and second of all aimed at the wrong people. People were hurt, reputations were unfairly questioned and fine people who strive to do what is best for all of the children all of the time at this competition found their commitment and honesty being under attack. I was not the subject of the attacks “this time,” that I know of, but when these things happen (even after growing a much thicker skin over the years) I have to fight the urge to quit participating in these activities. It’s not because of the work involved, but because of the idea that some of the people I am serving at these competitions think so little of me, the directors of the contests and the work needed to put it together that they believe all of us would sell-out our self-respect so cheaply.

The logic is simple, “Just because you don’t understand what happened does not mean it is wrong” and until you have asked why and gotten the answers from an authority rather than conjecture, you must realize that for those who do know the answers your loud statements of outrage emphasize your ignorance rather than your acuity. Lincoln said it best when he said, “Be silent and be thought a fool or open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

I would add from long time competitive experience that, “Whiners are almost never ever really winners and real winners never whine.”

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About safrisri

I was a school teacher until retirement. I have taught at all educational levels from pre-school to college. My college degree is general science which I arrived at after 5 years and 5 different majors. A degree as it turns out, almost as valuable and in demand as one in Neo-Bulgarian Mythology. I have been around education for around 40 years and can remember when teaching was a pleasant, happy and creative job and our schools were the same. Now I'm the guy sitting on the porch with an opinion on everything.
This entry was posted in Academic Competition, education, Society, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “An Empty Wagon Rattles The Loudest”

  1. HaLin says:

    As someone said, opining is difficult, especially as judges. Unenviable situation, almost designed to take flak irrespective of the outcome of the contest.

    I concur with your last line completely.

  2. thelastgasp1 says:

    Sounds like a “fun” weekend…glad I was doing yard work and NOT there!!!!

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