Friday, August 21, 2015

What’s Wrong with Participation Trophies?

              To hear James Harrison tell it… everything.  The sports world took a breather from fights during NFL training camps, court hearings on deflated footballs, and baseball trades and firings to focus in on James Harrison, the parent.  In case you missed it, James Harrison, NFL linebacker returned his sons’ trophies they had received for participating on a sports team.  His theory?  “I'm sorry I'm not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I'm not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best...cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better...not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy."
                Ray Hennessey on agreed.  He talked about our culture being “stained with entitlement”.  He also states in his article that “you cannot lose -- and therefore cannot learn from the loss -- if someone hands you a laurel along the way simply because you showed up. You will always feel like a winner, which will make you a perpetual loser”.
                Nancy Armour from USA Today Sports concurred.  Her article discussed how participation trophy proponents believe in rewarding effort.  However her theory is that “by handing out trophies and medals at every turn, it actually sends the opposite message, essentially telling kids it's enough just to show up.”
                I’ve struggled with this theory this week.  I have an 8 year old son who has participated in these types of leagues for football, soccer and basketball.  He gets a trophy at the end of every season, just like all of the other kids on his teams.  For him, the trophy is a reward for completing the season; showing up each practice and game, doing what the coach tells him to do, and having fun in the process.  He displays these proudly in his room.  That’s what his mother and I have instilled him.  Participate.  Be a part of something.  Try without concern for failure.  If you fail, challenge yourself to get better each practice, game, season, year.  But you have to be out there on the field or court to do that and I don’t have any problem with someone handing him a trophy for being willing to go out there.  There are a lot of other kids sitting at home who aren’t getting trophies.
                I stumbled on a Facebook post from that my wife and I will be sharing with my son before he goes back to school.  The part I like the best about this letter to a child is the following:  “We don’t care if you are the smartest or fastest or coolest or funniest.  There will be lots of contests at school, and we don’t care if you win a single one of them.  We don’t care if you get straight As.  We don’t care if the girls think you’re cute or whether you’re picked first or last for kickball at recess.  We don’t care if you are your teacher’s favorite or not.  We don’t care if you have the best clothes or most Pokemon cards or coolest gadgets.  We just don’t care.  We don’t send you to school to become the best at anything at all.  We already love you as much as we possibly could.  You do not have to earn our love or pride and you can’t lose it.  That’s done.  We send you to school to practice being brave and kind.”
                I remember my Little League baseball days many (many) years ago.  I received a trophy for being on the team.  The coaches gave additional trophies to the ones who excelled.  I always strived for the top trophies but I felt good about myself walking away with my trophy for working hard each day and participating.  I’ve turned out okay.  I strive to be the best in my job and I’ve earned recognition for it.  And what’s even better?  My boss gives me a paycheck every other week for showing up and doing my best.  I don’t plan on returning it.