I tried to resist, but I had want to weigh in with an alternate view on the kerfuffle about participation trophies for young athletes, sparked by NFL player James Harrison taking these kinds of trophies away from his 8 and 6-year-old sons because they didn’t “earn” them.
So if you are predisposed to dislike the practice, don’t think of them as participation trophies.
Think of them as “I put up with Mom and Dad video taping my every move and screaming at me even though I am really trying as hard as I can” trophies.
Or “I play this sport year round because they tell me it will make me a better player even though I haven’t even lost all my baby teeth yet” awards.
Or “I’d rather be doing something else, but Dad signed me up for this even though I said I didn’t want to do it” awards.
In an era when so many parents – myself included – shower the latest technologies on our kids and work to provide them every advantage we can get, is a trophy really the one thing that will let them think that life might not be a struggle at times? Some parents outfit their kids for instructional leagues with the latest and greatest equipment and record every at bat, goal or foul shot, but a trophy causes disillusionment? A trophy that was conceived by adults?
This trend did not come from a referendum of 8-year-olds. Second graders did not rise up and demand athletic socialism. Adults came up with this idea. So the solution is for a millionaire to yank trophies away from his kids, tell them they don’t deserve them and shame anyone else who thinks that a piece of plastic isn’t that big of a deal?
Many kids can’t remember to do a chore you told them to do 90 seconds ago, so I don’t see how a participation trophy will send them on some lifelong philosophical journey that will have them questioning the meaning of life because they finished in last place in a tournament and still got an award when they were 7.
I might have a skewed perspective on this, however, because I officiate youth wrestling in the winter. But when I regularly see kids in tears before they even begin to compete, I don’t know if we should be worrying about a trophy at the end. We should be taking stock of the entire youth sports enterprise and how parents approach it.
Youth sports can bring about so many benefits. Losing gracefully and applying the lessons from a negative experience can really benefit youngsters. But that comes from calm conversation which teaches perspective, not parents arguing over who deserves a trophy.
Just make sure that before and after they get their grubby paws on that trophy that they have actually learned something else and that you and/or the coaches have helped them gain incremental improvement in the skills of the sport.
If your kid gets something you don’t think they really earned, don’t take it away. Sit down with them and talk with them about the experience. Find out what they liked and didn’t like. Put some context around the trophy. Let the kid enjoy it for one simple reason.
They’re a kid and sometimes it’s nice to get something shiny. If you don’t think they deserve it, take away the iPad, not the trophy.