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

Controversy in Tee Ball!

We get that everyone loves their kids and the first time through sports we don’t always understand the importance (or lack thereof) of what happens in games between five and six year-olds. Here is an example. A Little League District Facebook page posted a Tee Ball rules clarification. Reading through the comments it is clear to see what occurred and that not everyone can let it go.

Little League District:
TEE BALL RULES UPDATE: it has come to our attention that there is some confusion about some types of defensive plays in Tee Ball. The issue is a little technical, but to make a long story short…CLARIFICATION (in short): Any defensive player in possession of a ball ruled in play may attempt to legally put out any batter-runner or runner.  This is not an umpiring issue – this was a well-intentioned comment on player development by District representatives as a response to a question during the pre-tournament umpire clinic. The umpires were doing what they were told were the prevailing approved decisions, and they have been informed of the clarifications for all future games. All prior games, whether impacted or not, are final. The games were called equally for both teams. We appreciate the opportunity to learn this game of baseball in front of this community, because sometimes it is hard to keep it all straight.

Post from Individual 1, sharing with Individual 2:
those 3 outs would have counted

Individual 2 replying:
Wow!! Oh well. Now we know for next year.

Post from Individual 3:
So what does this do for the games that have already been played. Rules should have been clarified before the start of this tournament. It is unfair for teams to prepare to play and rules are not carried out across the board. I came to watch games on Saturday, and when it was time for our team to play on Sunday the rules were completely different, and the same umpires were there. This is unfair to the kids involved. This clarification had it been done BEFORE the tournament started would have made a difference in the games. It is unfair and something needs to be done. A conversation needs to be had regarding these games and implementing rules. You can’t post a clarification 2 days into a tournament and say all games are final. What are we teaching our kids if ADULTS can’t take ownership. This is a District issue that needs to be fixed soon.

Reply from Little League District:
I appreciate your statement. It was a pleasure to talk to you today, and I look forward to meeting with you soon to continue the conversation.

 

I can’t get my T-ball player to pay attention

This is an email we received:

Hello. I have read several of your articles and they are very helpful. I wonder if you might help me with a problem I am having. I am coaching Little League, Tee Ball, and it is very difficult to get my players to pay attention. They are 5 and 6 years old and I know they have short attention spans but I also feel like it is my job to teach them the fundamentals of baseball, like how to field a ground ball properly. But when I put them out in positions and hit balls to them most of them can’t stand still long enough to wait their turn. Any advice you have would be appreciated.”

Our response:

Thank you for your note and for volunteering to coach a team in your league. Coaching players at that age it can be very challenging, but also very rewarding. I’d recommend keeping two things in mind, the first of which will probably take care of the second. Number one, at this age, these kids don’t care about improving, about proper technique or fundamentals. They only want to have fun. So a good coach will simply make sure that every practice is a blast, but within a baseball context. A great coach will be able to actually teach fundamentals and make the kids better players, but while making practice something fun and that they look forward to. Our CoachDeck is a deck of cards containing 52 good, fundamental drills, many of which are appropriate even at the T-ball level. Each one contains a “Make it a Game” feature that turns an ordinary drill into a fun and exciting competition kids love. Take a look at Cap Buttons and Triangle Drill, for instance. Around the Horn could be modified to roll the ball instead of throwing it. These and many more are exercises you can do with your players that they’ll enjoy, but will also make them better. Kind of like sneaking vegetables onto a plate of food they love!

And the second thing to keep in mind? Your number one job this year is to make sure that every kid wants to come back and play again next season. If you accomplish nothing else, you’ve done great. And by making every practice fun and filling them with games and competition, you can be sure that not only will your players want to come back to each practice, but they’ll want to return again next year.

Again, thank you for writing and for giving your time to these kids. I promise you, you’ll be glad you did.