What I do notice about soccer — and, in reality, most youth sports — is that everyone gets a medal. A congratulatory ribbon. A “good job, you put shoes on and ran” award.

I never played soccer as a child. I played basketball, t-ball, then later tennis. I was a Boy Scout. I attended church camps regularly. I acted in community theater, participated in marching band and played in concert and jazz bands.

But never soccer. I didn’t understand it then, and don’t really understand it now.

What I do notice about soccer — and, in reality, most youth sports — is that everyone gets a medal. A congratulatory ribbon. A “good job, you put shoes on and ran” award.

Truth be told, it makes me roll my eyes a little bit that everyone has to be a winner these days. I get it: why crush a child’s dream by rewarding some over others? It’s not about the competition, some argue.

That’s valid, I suppose. But in the long run, we’re taking away the incentive to reach for the stars. If everyone’s a winner, why try for the gold?

Historically, competition has determined many facets of human history. It’s healthy in many circumstances. We need more leaders willing to push children and students to do the best.

I remember one particular teacher from my high school days. She had a reputation as a harsh — no, very harsh — critic of her freshmen classes. A chain-smoking, sharp-tongued traditionalist, she never minced words with how she felt about her students’ work. I recall turning in a paper once. She read the first sentence, said “This sentence is crap,” and sent me back to my desk start over. A stark contrast to a lot of youth sports today, no one felt the glow of victory in her class. We all failed until we proved ourselves as winners through hard work and academic growth.

The first few weeks of English class with her felt like torture for just about everyone — weeks filled with gerunds, past participles and prepositional phrases. Here was her method to teaching us the intricacies of grammar: if you got one single part of your homework assignment incorrect, you would do the entire assignment over again. Repeat ad nauseum until every assignment earned a perfect score. While it put more work on her shoulders — grading assignments multiple times in most cases — it proved the value of doing everything with maximum effort the first time around.

She quickly became the most feared teacher in my freshman class. One day, she flipped out of her rolling chair (she wasn’t hurt), normally a cause for a few laughs. My class sat quiet as a tomb. No one dared to laugh at her misfortune.

Once the grammar lessons subsided, thankfully, we moved on to writing. To this day, I will remember the list of banned words in that class.

My teacher banned the use of any form of the verb “to be” in writing. Am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been. I’ve committed those words to memory. If you use those words in writing, she argued, you aren’t stretching your mind for a more creative action verb or sentence structure. One use of a “to be” verb lost one point on an assignment. This column, right off the bat, would have a few points taken off.

At the end of the year, I earned an “A” in freshmen English because my teacher expected the best and didn’t settle for anything less. And I learned that lesson.

Could she have coddled her students more, knowing that they probably didn’t understand the basics of how to write a proper paper yet? Yes, but how would that serve her pupils?

I remember this tough teacher more than almost any other because she didn’t give out metaphorical “You tried!” ribbons.

An “A” in her class, equivalent to a trophy (at least, that’s how it felt), served as a reward for meeting high standards and achieving excellence. That “A” in freshmen English means more to me than a lot of grades I received at the university level following two bachelor’s degrees.

Abandoning complacency in today’s youth will do more for the ones truly eager to reach for success than any amount of participation awards and medals.

Maybe we need more adults willing to give kids a tough time.