Bring Back Dodgeball? Coddling = Poor Workplace Coping Skills


Over the years, there has been a growing movement to eliminate games like dodgeball from school playgrounds. Some believe these kinds of games are too harsh for kids – especially in this era where everyone gets participation ribbons even when their effort is mediocre. Instead, many have opted to overly coddle at the expense of preparing people for the real world. Not only are sports like dodgeball fun, but they teach us about life.

It is true that dodgeball can get violent when the bigger kids target and pummel smaller classmates with aggressive throws. The process of being picked for a team is also nerve-racking, can bruise little egos, and can chip away at self-esteem. Nobody likes the feeling of being picked last or getting smacked in the face with a ball.

But the benefits outweigh the negatives. It is inevitable that each of us will get knocked off our feet at some point in life. How we cope with being in last place separates the leaders from the followers, and the successful from the floundering. When we leave the protection of school, we need to know how to face life’s ups and downs – especially in the workplace.

Here are six very important life lessons from competitive schoolyard sports.

1. Competition Isn’t A Dirty Word

Having a healthy dose of competition pushes you to excel. Wanting to be on top encourages you to want to do better and be better. The feeling of winning can be euphoric. The quest to get there can motivate you to hone your skills so you can achieve great success. Bringing a good balance of humility coupled with competitive drive to your career can help you get that promotion and outshine your peers.

2. Learning to Lose Without Being A Loser = Dealing with Adversity

You cannot win them all. Sometimes you will not get the prize you crave – whether it is landing a new client, getting your dream job, or being selected to deliver a critical presentation. But you cannot crumble and fall apart. You have to pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes, and understand why you failed.

Sports can teach how to lose gracefully – forcing us to try harder, learn to win, and deal with failure. Knowing how to fail without being a “loser” is a lifelong lesson in leadership and managing through adversity. If you crack at the first sign of hardship, you are in for a rocky career.

3. Life Isn’t Fair

At some point we all have to learn that life is not fair. Just like the kid who is never picked first for any team but has the fastest throwing arm, you too may come up short. You might be the most talented and skilled, but the last person who comes to mind for a plum opportunity. Why? Because that is life. The sooner we learn this lesson, the better we will be at coping when things do not go as planned.

4. Playing to Your Strengths & Understanding Teamwork

The great thing about dodgeball, is that the strongest person or team does not always win. It may take a few balls to your head to realize it, but if you want to survive the game, you have to adapt…quickly. Once you are able to see what you are best at, you can start playing to your strengths and those of your teammates. We all have different talents and should focus on exploring them.

The most successful players use their brains, strategize, and work well with their team. You could be the scrawniest kid on the court, yet the last person standing. If you leverage what you have to offer and recognize the strengths and weaknesses of your opponents and team, you can be victorious. It just takes self-awareness, being a good team player, and the ability to rely on those around you.

5. Sometimes You Have to Take It on the Chin

In dodgeball, the team with the last person standing wins. This means that you can be eliminated from the game and still win if your team eliminates all the players from the opposing team. To support a win, you may have to sacrifice yourself for the benefit of your team.

Similarly, in the workplace there are times we just have to take a hit so the group or company can advance. It might sting at first, but if you end up in a better place because your group advanced, you are better off. Bottom line – sometimes you have to swallow your pride and quiet your ego to get ahead.

6. Self-Reliance

Sometimes things just come down to you…and you. In life, there will be times when no one has your back while balls are flying your way. To get ahead in your career and to achieve success, you have to know how to excel without the support and comfort of your team. You need keen self-reliance skills as part of your core survival mechanism.

Final Thoughts

There should be a healthy balance of games like dodgeball with clear winners and losers, along with others focused on group achievement and collective effort with unclear champions. However, if we eliminate some games just because they cause hurt feelings and ego blows, then we produce people who may lack mechanisms to deal with adversity – becoming the person crying during that first bad performance review, calling in “sick” before an important meeting because an intimidating colleague will be there, or having panic attacks at the first sign of workplace stress and tension. How are these helpful outcomes for anyone’s career?

Many of the lessons we learn in our youth last a lifetime, empower us to excel, and shape our adulthood. As we get older, we inevitably face unwelcomed “teachable moments” that rock our foundation, defy our will to continue, and test our mental strength. It is hard to learn how to dust yourself off, work well with others, and recover from failure when coddled and overly protected. Sports can teach us strong coping skills and prepare us for living and working through challenging times. So can honesty.

To survive and thrive, the key to longevity and leadership is learning and knowing how to lose without being a loser. So let’s stop handing out trophies for 88th place when this really warrants a hopeful “good try and maybe next time.” Being at the bottom does not deserve a prize unless the goal is to cripple people as they mature. Let’s stop coddling – including at work – so people are set up for long-term success.

Most importantly, let’s stop telling employees they are doing well when their performance is subpar. Instead, we should force ourselves to have difficult conversations and give honest constructive feedback that enables others to grow. This way, more people can begin to have truthful conversations with themselves about their careers and professional development.


The Azara Group (TAG) is a consulting firm that promotes the development of leaders in an increasingly competitive and diverse marketplace – providing strategy consulting services and leadership training services to advance professional and life success. TAG leverages expertise in career strategy, diversity, negotiation skills, and business acumen to provide strategic advice and consulting services to help people and organizations get what they want, achieve their goals, and advance their business and career objectives. TAG also helps companies better attract, retain, and promote diverse talent, and develop robust diversity platforms and strategies to create a more inclusive workplace.

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