So What if Everybody Gets a Trophy?

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

Anyone following youth sports has noticed a groundswell of sarcasm and criticism online and in the media about leagues that give out trophies to every kid, just for playing. The general consensus seems to be that this teaches them the poor lesson that they will be rewarded even if they didn’t earn anything. My thought is that we’re focusing on the wrong thing.

I’ve seen at least one viral video of a professional athlete walking with his daughter who has just finished her soccer game and throwing the trophy she was given in the trash. The video was touted as an exemplary piece of parenting. Thousands of views, shares and comments applaud this man, who is obviously physically and mentally stronger than all of us, for showing us how to raise strong children. The phrase “Participation Trophy” has become a pejorative. “Give everyone a ribbon” is a political insult.

As I’m writing this, I wonder what kind of impact this has all had on the trophy industry.

I don’t care if you don’t want to give trophies out to little kids. I don’t happen to think its a big deal. If the children are 5, 6, 7 or 8 years old should we really be focusing on winning and championships? At that age a trophy is not an award for athletic achievement, it’s a memento – a souvenir. My kids got dozens of little trophies for playing various sports when they were young. They liked to put them on their shelf in their room and collect them through the years. They would occasionally point them out to me and ask me if I remembered that team. It was nice. And as for making them weak, all four of my kids went on to play sports collegiality. Two of them are now pros. I don’t think handing them a small faux marble base with a gold plastic statue on top when they were nine did any long-term damage to their psyches.

And yet I will watch tee ball games where a player fields a batted ball, actually throws it to first, the tiny first baseman actually catches it and puts his foot on the base before the runner gets there and….the runner is allowed to stay at first base anyway. The parents are afraid the batter will be devastated if he is the only one who gets called out. What kind of lesson does that teach every player on both teams? Even if the child is upset, can’t we use that as a moment to explain that he did a great job hitting the ball but sometimes when you do your best it still isn’t good enough? That we should respect our opponent and congratulate them on their achievement? That we can use setbacks to motivate us to do better next time? But that would take more work than just letting him stay on base.

One season when I coached pee-wee basketball I spent all my preseason practices teaching my team to do the one thing that was most difficult for them: To dribble and pass the ball so as to move it up the court without traveling. Then, at the first game, the players on the other team are picking up the ball and straight running it down the court, maybe bouncing it one time, and throwing it in the hoop. I asked the referees to actually enforce the rules and call traveling when it occurred. This was not so my team could win, in fact I requested that they let the other players keep the ball. I just wanted the officials to explain to these kids that they had to dribble the ball so they would learn something their coach had obviously not taken the time to teach them. And so that my players would not witness their opponent breaking the rules and gaining an advantage without consequences. So that my team could see the value of the work we did at practice. But this league didn’t think that was important, and no whistles were blown.

Our society seems to want to grab onto the easiest thing it can find…to support, to blame; because that takes much less effort than actually digging in and teaching, learning, doing work, making progress. So the problem with kids and youth sports today is that “everybody gets a trophy”. Doesn’t that strike you as being a little too simple of an explanation?

Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com

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5 Responses

  1. I agree with you completely. Also, it seems very hypocritical that these same people who condemn participation trophies thinks it’s okay for all of these College Football Bowl Games. By their rationale, only the top team should get a trophy. What about all of these Bowl Games? If you’re not playing for the National Championship, then what are you playing for? In a sense, they’re playing for a Participation Trophy. You won the Froggy Bowl? Congrats……you’re 125th place. Here’s your participation trophy. I agree with you 100%.

  2. I agree with both. I do not care for everybody gets a trophy mentality and i don’t like coaches who don’t teach the game. The trophies became a problem when everything became about the trophy and not learning a sport or how to compete. Trophies kept getting bigger and bigger and then the tournaments started calling themselves the “World Championships”. I just like my kids to learn a sport and have the satisfaction of competing at their highest level. You see a lot of kids (in wrestling for example) win trophies with out even competing. I feel it encourages entitlement issues which has become a big problem. That being said if people want to declare their kid world champion without competing or Silver medalist even though they lost their only competition, so be it. Not my style but its their right to parent how they want and encourage mediocracy if that’s all they desire for their kids. As for a coach who doesn’t coach proper fundamentals or rules of the game, athletics would be far better off without them. If you have to cheat to win, you aren’t really winning.

    • I guess the theme of the article was that if parents teach and work with their kids it won’t matter if the league hands their kids a trophy. Kids know the difference between championship trophies and participation trophies anyway, and I’ve never heard of a parent or child bragging about a participation trophy. I don’t believe giving them a souvenir makes them feel entitled later in life.

      • I agree participation trophy is far less an issue for me. My entitlement claim was with empty placing trophies. It’s similar to the parents that don’t work but instead choose to get government assistance because it’s easier. For some reason they feel it’s owed to them and kids become the same way. I also agree that parents need to install these values but again sadly coaches often become the parent figure in these young kid’s lives. It does go far deeper than just a trophy, I do know that.

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