I knew all of that right up until I knew the truth. A few years ago, two things happened that changed my opinion on cheaters and the role they play in this business.
First, our breeding program finally started to click and we were thrown into the top of the game. With every win, it suddenly felt like another target was drawn on my back. I heard people whispering, saw people pointing the finger. And it nearly broke me. Because we had gotten where we were with honest hard work, following every rule laid out before us. And they were still accusing. People I thought were our friends. People I thought knew us.
Second, I started running a large and competitive junior show which put me within earshot all day long of the ring side conversations. I heard parents telling each other and their kids that judges were dishonest and other exhibitors were cheating. I heard accusations made against kids and families that I KNEW were not dishonest and were not cheating. I heard judges bashed that I had personally selected because of their integrity.
And then I realized. It hit me like a ton of bricks. We make ourselves, and our kids, feel better about losing by accusing others of cheating.
And these accusations, and the whining about cheating, are more of a threat to our industry than the cheaters ever will be. And here is why.
1. It creates a false impression that “everyone” is doing it
When our kids overhear us complain and accuse the winners of cheating, they develop an unrealistic view of the industry. They develop a sense that everyone, or at least everyone having success, is cheating (which simply is not true).
This is troublesome in multiple ways but mainly in the relationships it costs our kids and the frustration is creates for them. If our children don’t trust and respect their peers because of (often false) accusations they hear about them, it’s impossible to expect them to create the lifelong friendships and relationships that make this business so special.
If a child is consistently told the winners are cheating – they believe it and they believe the only way to win is through cheating (again not true). The idea that an exhibitor cannot take home the banner through hard and honest work is so overwhelming and frustrating it leads to many kids and their families dropping out of the competition all together. Most people understand winning is hard – but if it’s impossible through honest means, why bother?
2. It makes excuses for failure
Failure is such an important lesson for our kids, a vital lesson. Our children must learn how to fail and come out stronger and smarter because of it. Our children must learn how to have fun and enjoy themselves even if they are not winning.
And if our children are to be successful in the livestock industry, they must also learn how to be critical of themselves and their animals. It amazes me how many experienced exhibitors walk into a show ring believing their animal has no faults.
The hard fact of showing is that you animal does have faults and most of the time is not good enough to win the banner. Most of the time, someone else will have worked a little harder or have a animal that’s just a little better (or a lot better!).
If every time a child doesn't win, it’s simply excused away by blaming the winners of cheating, a child takes no personal responsibility for the loss. A child learns to deflect blame onto someone else, instead of recognizing their (and their animals) own shortcomings.
By blaming others for a loss, you’re stealing the learning opportunity from your child and again, creating more frustration.
3. It devalues winning
Once you have created a mindset in a child where the only way to win is through dishonest means, a child slowly starts to devalue winning. They believe that the banners sent home with someone else were not well deserved (again creating frustration) and often tell themselves and others that they were shorted something because the winners were cheating.
Not only does this compound the problem listed as item number 2, it also takes away the feeling of accomplishment, pride and excitement if and when your child can get into the Champion Drive and finally take home that banner.
4. It forces drastic rule changes that are ineffective and discouraging to new and young exhibitors (and their families)
Here’s the hard truth of showing livestock – there are people who cheat. It’s a very small percentage of the people, and most often judges (who are smarter and more honest than we give them credit for) pick these people out and sort them off.
The fact remains there are cheaters. One thing always remains true of those who cheat – they break rules. Yet for some reason, parents and show managers seem to think the answer to these problems is creating more rules.
Rules are NOT effective at getting cheaters to quit cheating. Cheaters, by definition, break rules.
They are however very effective at confusing first time showers, getting honest entries kicked out of the competition because of an honest mistake, and creating costly and frustrating hoops to jump through for honest exhibitors.
So as parents, and as an industry, I encourage each of you to be more honest with yourself and your kids about why your animals are not winning, and at the same time, create a more positive and promising outlook on the industry.
Remind your kids that they did an awesome job even if they didn’t win and that losing doesn’t somehow require a laundry list of excuses as to why, to make it ok. It’s OK to lose. Most of us do it, most of the time.
Create a perspective for your kids (and others) that will allow them to be more self-evaluating, allow them to create trusting relationships with their peers, and allow them to truly cherish the once in a lifetime opportunity of winning that banner.
And most importantly, create a perspective for your kids that allow them to have fun and celebrate whoever did the winning on that particular day!