Participation Trophies – The Kids Don’t Want Them Either

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Last month Pittsburg Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison took to Twitter to reignite the now overplayed debate about the practice of awarding “participation” trophies in youth sports.

He wrote:

I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. 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. #harrisonfamilyvalues

Most of the parents chimed in with the cliché, chest-pumping phrases: “Kids need to learn that you don’t get something for nothing.” “Here’s just one more example of the puss#%*@% of America,” and on and on, proud of themselves for their toughness.

I don’t know about you, but in ten years of youth baseball I have never once seen a kid “cry and whine” until someone gives them one of these cheesy pieces of junk. Kids aren’t dumb. Even at very young ages they recognize authentic success. Ultimately, any trophy, whether earned or unearned, will really not serve to encourage or discourage them. That motivation will always come from within.

Like any kid who plays, my son has a collection of baseball trophies. Some of them represent long-ago epic tournament battles where hundreds of other teams were sent home empty-handed. Some recognize now irrelevant skills (like the one that says “Pitching Champion” for a 45 mile an hour fastball). Upper Chesapeake Baseball Festival Finalist. 8U Runners Up. 9-10 Tournament Champions. 11-12 Tournament Champions. That’s nothing to say of those with USSA Baseball and Little League and Ripken championship trophies. Frankly, they are all collecting dust. They represent a past achievement and anyone who knows anything about baseball will agree – past achievements mean nothing in today’s game.

Some of the trophies in my son’s collection were – gasp! – for just participating. They came from mostly when he was very young back in those simple days where the coach pitched and they had to call time so the umpire could go out to tie the second baseman’s shoe. I guess that at the time when these were presented I did not mind. I think there are much larger threats to our children’s drive and motivation in sports than these pieces of plastic. Hyper-competitive parents. Overuse. Over-specialization – to name a few. Did receiving these trophies make the kids entitled? No. Those that are can thank their parents for that. Did it squash their drive to want to do better? No way. Ten years later they are still out here battling on a much bigger field, with much higher stakes without a single thought for any trophy.