My son didn’t win school captain, and I’m glad

Standing shoulder to shoulder with a dozen other grade fives at a recent school assembly, my son courageously stepped into the spotlight, giving it his all to secure a leadership position for the upcoming year.

A month earlier, at school pick up, he’d excitedly waved a school leadership application at me, embodying the “just give it a go” ethos he adopted from his prep teacher. I was proud he was keen to put his hat in the ring without fear of rejection – “Go, little buddy, go!”

Even our failures can present us with a great opportunity.Credit: Louise Kennerley

My son has a distinctive style. On speech day, he walked up to the mic doing a playful dance that may have been better suited to a theatrical performance. While it probably didn’t conform to the conventional image of a school leader, it authentically mirrored his humour and casual charm – qualities I would never want him to sacrifice for the sake of a title. Qualities I want him to recognise and treasure too.

He didn’t win a leadership position. While it’s natural to want your child to succeed – I do of course – I’m also OK he didn’t get a position. Does this admission make me a bad mother?

In a society that seems, at times, fixated on winning, the significance of confronting and overcoming disappointments often goes unnoticed. As adults, we understand that life isn’t served on a silver platter. We don’t get all the jobs we apply for, some of our relationships fail, and we even encounter financial setbacks that can shake our sense of stability. Our children need fewer cotton wool wraps and more fostering of resilience, equipping them to navigate life’s challenges. Learning that sometimes there can be only one winner despite how hard they may try is important.


Titles and positions in school or sporting clubs aren’t the exclusive benchmark of success. Let’s not forget kids are often just 10 or 11 years old when these leadership roles start arising. While I’m in the camp that supports schools providing awards and leadership positions, it does spark heated debates among parents. I also believe kids don’t need participation ribbons on sports days, it’s a waste of school funds … but that’s a story for another day.

I had my own botched attempt at a school leader position when I was in year 10. As I nervously gripped the microphone at the school assembly, my body became a human maraca – shake, rattle, and roll. Me, my speech paper, and the microphone cord turned into a comedy scene. A kid in the front row leaned over to his buddy and whispered, “Check out the cord doing the cha-cha.” All I wanted was for the ground to swallow me whole. My message was lost. Needless to say, I wasn’t chosen.

Since that day, I haven’t encountered any more microphone hiccups. By stumbling hard I learnt more from that “failure” than any victory could offer. It provided the path of improvement and the wisdom of heeding the advice of my English teacher. You were right Ms A, cue cards would have been a stellar idea! Fast forward to today, addressing crowds of 200 people is downright exhilarating! I love it. The journey from disaster to triumph wasn’t just about practice; it was about embracing and extracting valuable lessons from that initial calamity.

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