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A Winning Philosophy

I originally published this article in Volume 2, Issue 5 - November 27, 2002. During the past five years, I have continued to be disappointed by the number of parents that take a "Win at all cost" viewpoint. I hope that this article will cause many to rethink their philosophy as it relates to pinewood derby racing.

Not long ago I had a discussion with a dad about an upcoming pinewood derby race. He asked if I sold completed cars. I responded that I didn't offer finished cars. I then went on to ask the following question: "Since the pinewood derby is intended to be a child/parent project, wouldn't buying a completed car go against the basic spirit of the event?" The dad responded something like, "Me and my son have a 'win at all cost' philosophy. So we do whatever is necessary to win." I was a bit disturbed by the comment, and tried to explain to the dad why I held a different philosophy. But I soon realized that there was little room for discussion.

What is my philosophy? Why did I react to the dad's comment? I hope to make this clear in the article today, and in so doing I hope that I leave you with some food for thought. Your philosophy certainly does not need to match my philosophy; however, we all need to make sure that we understand our basic belief in the area of competition and ensure that it is the philosophy that we want to impart to our children.

When considering life's events, I believe that a person should strive to do their very best. In sports, this means giving a 100 percent physical effort. In educational pursuits this means studying to achieve mastery of a subject. In fact, I believe if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well. From simple chores to running a business, I strive to do my best.

A "Do Your Best" philosophy has at its core the concept of integrity. Thus, the athlete gives one hundred percent and follows the rules of the sport; the student achieves mastery without cheating; the business-person offers a quality product for a fair price.

Furthermore, there is another aspect to a "Do Your Best" philosophy which is not so black and white. That is the idea of fair play or sportsmanship. One can abide by the rules and yet be ethically delinquent by demonstrating non-sportsmanlike conduct. The athlete may badger the competition with cruel words, use steroids or other questionable means to enhance performance. The student may use fragments of another person's work (easy to do today with the Internet), or study a copy of last year's test from an upperclassman. The business
may make questionable product claims or slam their competition. These activities and others go against the grain of a "Do Your Best" philosophy.

Although it is not specifically stated in all cases, the "Do Your Best" philosophy is clearly in harmony with the philosophy of the major organizations that sponsor pinewood derby races:

Awana Mission Statement - "… challenge and train the youth of the world through Bible-based, Christ-centered programs …" (paraphrased)

BSA mission statement - "… to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law. " (In fact, the Cub Scout motto is "Do your best.")

Royal Ambassadors' Motto - "Ambassadors for Christ"

Royal Rangers Aim and Goals - "… to instruct, challenge and inspire our boys in the areas of Bible doctrine, Christian service, moral conduct, and basic beliefs of our church through interesting activities that boys

YMCA Mission Statement - "… to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all."

How does a "Do Your Best" philosophy apply to pinewood derby racing? I believe that in the pinewood derby the child-parent team should strive to do their best. This means that they should have fun building the fastest car possible within the guidelines of the local rules, and within the boundaries of good sportsmanship. To further clarify the "Do Your Best" philosophy, let's take a look at another philosophy.

The person who follows a "Win At All Cost" philosophy will do whatever is necessary to win, even if it means stepping into questionable, even unethical behavior. No one doubts that the ethical boundary was crossed when figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was assaulted. So certainly if a pinewood derby participant "accidentally/on-purpose" damaged a competitor's car, the bounds of ethics would be crossed. A parent-judge that favored their child's car would also be viewed as crossing the ethical boundary.

But how about the case where a parent has a craftsman friend build the car while the child is home playing. How about purchasing a pre-built car on eBay? Where is the ethical line crossed?

Clearly the purpose of the pinewood derby is both a craft-learning experience and a competition for the child. As such, the parent/child team should strive to do their best in crafting the car, and in making it go fast. To balance all of these aspects of the project can be a bit of a challenge. To help you achieve a balance, I suggest the following guidelines:

1. The parent should make sure that the child is involved to the greatest extent possible in all aspects of the project, while taking into account the child's age and capabilities. Here are some ideas for making sure
that the child stays involved.

a. Help the child select a design that they can build, without the parent having to do the majority of the work.

b. Allow your child to do as much as they physically and safely can accomplish. This will tend to slow things down (an excellent exercise in patience for the parent!).

c. Show your child the proper use of tools.

d. Help your child work through the required steps (no shortcuts) and help them understand why the steps are important.

e. Add strength and/or finesse for those steps that the child cannot do (initial saw cuts, drilling straight, inserting axles, etc).

2. If you choose to use more sophisticated tools, supplies, techniques, keep your child engaged at each step. Help them to understand the purpose for each tool or technique, and let them use the tool whenever possible. If you have access to a machine such as a drill press or lathe, explain why the machine is being used, show your child how to use the machine, and let your child run the machine (assuming that they are at an age where they can do so safely).

3. Give your child the pinewood derby building experience. Buying an "almost guaranteed district championship car" is very easy these days, but it cheats both your child and yourself out of the whole experience.

What is your philosophy? Do you hold to a "Do Your Best" philosophy or a "Win At All Cost" philosophy; or maybe you haven't thought about it. If not, I encourage you to consider this question and then ensure that you are imparting to your child a philosophy that will serve them well as they grow and mature.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 8, Issue 1

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