I would like less plastic crap in my house. But other than that, whatever.
This week, NFL player James Harrison made a big splash because he gave back participation trophies his kids brought home.
“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 to 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”
I will not spend a lot of time breaking down how the wealthy children of a pro football player don’t “earn” anything in their lives, nor should they. No children “earn” their lives, good or bad. They are provided to them by parents they have no way of selecting, so the “earn” thing is just stupid. Nor will I question why a bunch of people suddenly raised up a confessed domestic abuser as a role model for parenting. We’ll focus only on the matter at hand.
Contrary to what Mr. Harrison would like to assert, in kids’ sports, it does matter if you try your best. When you’re nine, if you try your best is the only thing that matters. Here’s why:
- Strictly from an athletic perspective, any coach worth anything will tell you that it is impossible to know in elementary school who will be a good athlete later. There are kids you are just sure are going to be all-stars. Third grade is as good as it gets for them. There are kids you cannot imagine will ever amount to anything. They end up in the pros. There is no way to know what anyone will be right now. So learning to work hard, to push yourself, to go back to practice, even if it didn’t go well last time is the only way to ever see if you’ve got anything in you. That’s why they have to play everyone. Because you never know. Only playing the best players now can get you short-term success. But it can kill you down the road when your amazing players plateau.
- There is a work ethic and a team commitment kids should learn from sports. You go to every practice and game, barring obvious sickness or family obligation exceptions. You’re part of a team. You made the commitment. You show up. You go all in, every time. You try your best. You can’t only try your best when you think you can win. You have to try your best, even when you know you’re going to lose. That’s how you walk around with dignity.
- My son swims. He’s on a team, but he’s not only competing against other kids, he’s mostly competing against himself. By pushing himself to do better today than he did last time, he learns to set personal goals and achieve them. It doesn’t matter if he’s never an Olympic swimmer. It matters that learns how to accomplish big things…a little bit at a time.
We have to stop putting adult expectation on children. If you don’t think they know whether or not they’re any good, you have never been on the bench of the losing team after a soccer game. They know, ok. They know.
But they’re not supposed to be good…yet. They’re not supposed to be an expert at anything…yet. They’re not supposed to have mastered skills…yet. They’re not supposed to have “earned” it…yet. THAT’S WHY THEY’RE PLAYING SPORTS AND GOING TO SCHOOL. They’re still learning!!
It does not make them entitled to acknowledge personal accomplishments along the way to big successes or no success at all.
“There comes a day in every man’s life — and it’s a hard day but there comes a day — when he realizes he’s never going to play professional baseball.”
~Josh Lyman, The West Wing
The guy down the hall at your office who watches British comedies Netflix all day and then writes reports about his overwhelming work load is not the same thing as a kid who hasn’t yet mastered the hand-eye coordination of making contact with a ball and bat. Stop acting like they are. And a participation trophy didn’t make him like that. He made himself like that.
So when these kids who have tried their best (whatever that looks like) come to the end of a season, if the people running the league want to give them a certificate, a ribbon, a trophy or something to acknowledge that they completed year/season/camp, fine. It’s a way to mark the time.
When the vast majority of these kids realize that sports is not going to be their thing, hopefully they will be left with some lessons on work ethic, being part of a team, staying active, setting goals and trying your best. Beyond that, I hope they have memories of having fun. They’re games, for crying out loud.
And when they find their old plastic trophies in a box in the attic, I hope they laugh about the time their friend did that thing or the odd way that one coach yelled or some other memory. Because it was something they did before they used the lessons they learned in kids’ sports to go on to do what they were meant to do.