What started out as a rather routine live radio broadcast this weekend while tailgating before a college football game turned into an interesting social experiment.

Can your kid handle not being a winner?

Here's the Set-Up

The radio station had its prize wheel set up at a table outside Spartan Stadium. At the beginning of our 3-hour live broadcast, we had a slew of prizes available for visitors to try to win. We offered a pair of tickets to that day's game, concert tickets, station T-shirts and totes, coasters marked with the station logo, and stress balls shaped like cows. There were spaces on the prize wheel marked for all of these prizes. There were four spaces marked for the stress ball cows. One of the spaces on the wheel was marked "Spin Again", and another was marked "Not a Winner" (we employed this strategy as a way to stretch out our giveaways to help them last longer amidst the growing crowd).

Within our first two hours on-site, hundreds of people had stopped by to spin our prize wheel, and most walked away with some sort of trinket in their hands. Not everyone though.

Here are the four responses we witnessed among those who landed on "Not a Winner".

The Laugh-and-Shrug

The vast majority of the wheel spinners who landed on "Not a Winner" laughed and shrugged it off -- adults and children alike. They moved along to the next booth and went on about their afternoon.

The Pout


It was interesting to watch how children within the same family reacted if one sibling won a prize and another didn't.

Most pre-teens didn't care either way; children 4 and under really didn't either. It was the elementary school age kids who were most likely to pout if their brother or sister won something and they did not.

We watched as most parents used this turn of events as an opportunity to explain games of chance to their children. "You win some, you lose some."  Despite the initial pout, most of the kids that didn't win were quickly distracted by something else and forgot all about landing on "Not a Winner".

One girl whose twin sister won a prize on her very first spin found her way back into line three different times, only to land on "Not a Winner" every time. The pout got bigger every time, but she didn't launch into a tantrum.

The Fit

Over the course of the afternoon, we watched as three children (ranging in age from about 4 to 7) burst into tears as they walked away empty-handed. Their parents understood the concept of a prize wheel, and the inherent possibility of not winning anything. Like the parents of the pouters, these moms and dads tried to explain to their children that not everyone would always win. They whisked their fit-throwers away before we could see what happened next.

The "Karen"

A young lady about 11 years old spun the wheel and landed on "Not a Winner". Instead of walking away with a shrug or a pout, we were approached by the girl's mother who told us that her daughter only wanted one of the stress ball cows. We explained to this mom that we had a finite number of prizes for the day, and that the "Not a Winner" spaces were helping us to ration them through the afternoon. As we moved on to the next person in line for the prize wheel, this mom we'll call "Karen" stomped over to the other end of the prize table and whined to another worker who gave her a stress ball cow just to make her go away.


Those of us of a certain age have long feared we were sliding into an "everyone gets a trophy" society. Some of us can recall trying out for a team and not making it. We ended up okay.

It was encouraging to see the number of parents who are still trying to teach their children that we can't always be winners. That's just life.

Lots of luck with that spoiled brat of yours, Karen.

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