Nearly 70,000 young people recently attended the National FFA convention in Indianapolis. I could write a book about all of the awesome things that happen at this event and how it changes lives.
One of the main purposes for the convention is to host the national competitive events for the organization. Students compete to be national champions in public speaking, agronomy, meat evaluation, entrepreneurship, the agriscience fair and several hundred other contest areas.
In recent years, these competitions have become a source of pride and excitement for me as I have watched two of my nieces vie for national championships. Last week my niece, Madi, and her teammates, Zach and Brooklyn, earned first place in the marketing plan competition, which challenges each team to write a marketing plan to increase sales for a real ag-related business. The students present and defend their plan to panels of industry and academic experts from across the country.
This competition, like all of the national competitive events, requires months (or years) of preparation, skill development, sacrifices of time, energy and so much more to be ready to compete. These students have more preparation and experience than many industry professionals do by the time they are done.
One of the judges made an interesting observation. She said in her experience people at this level are so driven that completion colors their interactions and makes them aggressive toward each other. However, she said in FFA members have a culture of cooperation even among competitors. They acted courteous and helpful even to their competitors. She wanted to know how that was possible.
The judge was right, as odd as it seems, it is common to see FFA members in the same competition share words of encouragement or lend a needed piece of equipment to another team who forgot something or had a breakdown.
The reason for this behavior is simple. FFA has a culture that emphasizes the importance of values like honesty, hard work and courtesy to others.
Helping another person in need is a simple and expected courtesy. Sure, it may give you an advantage if your competition is injured, but that is not an honest or fulfilling way to win. We teach our students to win because they earn it and to respect the effort and skills of their competitors. Another person competing at their best makes you work even harder to be your best.
In a world so full of experiences and activities, it can be easy to forget about the importance of values. Out of all the investments we can make, instilling these values is the activity that rises to the top. Young people, who understand what values are expected, develop solid character and often grow to become trusted community contributors and leaders.
How are young people in your community being raised? Do you have programs like FFA, 4-H, Boy and Girl Scouts that emphasize values? Are expectations being modeled in their schools and sports programs? Is someone teaching why values are important?
These investments in the next generation are crucial. If we teach young people important values and have high expectations of their character, I am confident that no matter their goal, they will rise to the top.