In it to win it
This past weekend, I had my first experience with Pinewood Derby.  For the uninitiated, the Pinewood Derby is a huge event in Cub/Boy Scouts, where all the boys make their own (hopefully) wooden model cars to race.

We were given our blocks of wood a few weeks ago and my six year old dove into the experience.  He designed the car – a “race truck” that may not have been the best design to win, but is what he wanted – did most of the sanding and painting, and tried to limit his father’s role to power tools and detail work he needed help with.
Pinewood Derby Competition Boy Cub Scouts Tiger Cubs Racing
Friday night, we went in to weigh the car and turn it over until the race Saturday morning.  We were able to check out the track and see some test runs by prior-year cars.  It built the excitement and made the races real for the first time.

We also saw the other cars.  Since this was our first race, we didn’t know what to expect.  We saw a car carved and painted to look exactly like Sponge Bob Square Pants, a #2 Pencil, and a boat topped with TNT.  Ours was decorated with paint and racing numbers on the side – definitely a simpler design than many others.

Saturday, my son watched excitedly from the sidelines as car after car went down the track. Unlike his parents, he was unaware of what the track times meant and where he was in the standings.  He cheered with his friends, with eyes to the finish line of every race.  He loved seeing his car barrel down the track, but enjoyed the other wins just as much.

At the end of the day, Henry took home first place among the Tigers – apparently that truck design was better than we adults originally thought – and sixth overall.  He did not receive a trophy, but walked away with a first place ribbon for his efforts.

Reflecting back on the event, I found that there were five key Pinewood Derby lessons my son can apply later in life.  As an adult, I felt they were good reminders for me that I can apply at work and home.

1.       Competition is healthy, and can be done in a fun and friendly way
While many of the boys probably had visions of winning, they were cheering on their friends throughout the event.  We can be competitive and still be supportive of our competition.

2.      Some will win trophies or ribbons and some will not
The prize for showing up was the experience.  There were brackets to create level playing fields by age level, but there were too many boys for everyone to place.  In life, even if you try hard and want a win, there may be someone else that tries harder and wants it more.

3.      Working hard is table stakes…it’s the little extra that makes the difference
The top 5 places were determined by 1/1500 of a second.  Every design element made a difference to the outcomes.  In our careers, many people with similar skills can go after the same position.  Often, the little extra is what makes the difference.

4.      We can recognize and reward different types of skills and abilities
In addition to the awards for speed, there were also trophies for design.  Everyone has different strengths, such as analytical, physical or creative skills.  Another person’s strength can be different than our own, but just as valuable.

5.      Never underestimate yourself, or your competition
There was an open bracket where sisters and parents could race.  The adults had amazing aerodynamic cars with slick paint jobs and all the bells and whistles.  The car that won – and had the best time of the day – was a hand-painted pink and purple car built by a 5 year old girl.  She surprised everyone, including the adult engineer that came in second.

Regardless of all else, determination can make a huge difference in outcomes.


With this first year under his belt, my son can decide next year what is most important to him…the experience, racing to win, or designing to win.  No matter what happens, we want to continue to focus on getting out of the experience what he puts into it and remaining a good sport throughout.


Have you found key life/work lessons watching children (or adults) compete?  Do you agree with the lessons I’ve outlined above?  Please share your feedback in the comments and keep the conversation going.