We All Lose in Trophy Culture

An 11-year old boy plays little league baseball for the first time in his life. He doesn’t get a single hit all season. He is put in left field in all but one inning, where he dropped the only fly ball hit to him. The one inning he played 3rd base, he missed the two slow ground balls hit in his direction. His team had a record of 0–18 and scored only one run the entire season. At the pool party to “celebrate” their season, the boy and his 11 other teammates each received a trophy for “playing the best baseball” they possibly could play, according to their coach.

To my former coach: shame on you for telling me when I was 12 years of age that I played the best baseball possible during that season. That was the height of my baseball career? Playing shortstop on a team that couldn’t hit the ball and could barely score any runs? It seemed like our entire team was at the equivalent of that boy in left that had never played before. We were the “Devil Rays” and I’m convinced that, the very next season, the MLB team in Tampa Bay changed their team name to the “Rays” because our team played so poorly representing them with their name and stingray logo.

I was lucky that I had a competitive edge and didn’t want to lose. I hated losing. But what about the other 11 teammates I had that were told they had played great and received a trophy for it? Did losing 18 games and winning nothing teach them that it is okay to lose? Did it teach them that losing is not that bad? Hey, at least they gave it their all, right?

In our current society, we have become offended so easily that we feel that we need “safe spaces” for everything. I will never forget in 1st grade when I received the sportsmanship award for being the nicest player on my team. News flash: all of those MLB players aren’t playing in front of thousands of fans for millions of dollars because they are nice guys. Though it is great when they are nice guys, the real reason why they are out there is that they put in time, tireless effort, and because they probably failed at some point along the way and found a way to persist through it in order to become better players.

We live in a society that needs to realize that “trying hard” does not make you successful. Success is earned. Success is WON. In a CNN article, a woman talking about youth sports stated that “the idea of a participatory trophy is not to make everyone a winner, but to acknowledge that the child put time and effort forward and to provide a memento of the experience.” That is great and all, except for when the memento reminds our youth of how great they were at standing on the sidelines for their AYSO Asteroids soccer team during their 2001 season. The thought does “count” and it is great that parents care so much about the feelings and thoughts of their children. However, this “trophy culture” is actually backfiring in our society, which is why the current Millennial generation is “softer” than any generation previous. This trend will sadly only continue as long as we keep this trophy culture alive.

James Harrison, a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, posted an Instagram photo of two participation trophies that his boys, at 6 and 8 years old, received for participation. Harrison stated that he took the trophies, and that the boys would not get them back until they earned a real trophy. “I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe they are entitled to something just because they tried their best,” said Harrison. Harrison said he was proud of his boys for everything they do, and “will encourage them till the day I die,” but that they need to work hard to earn recognition for their accomplishments.

With this trophy culture, it is great that we don’t want our youth to be offended when they are not necessarily talented at something. However, this instills a “loser” mentality. In our society, we have accepted that it is okay to lose, and we are teaching our children that there will always be another chance in something. In the real world, we don’t have jobs handed to us. We don’t have anything whatsoever handed to us. It is earned. With this current trophy culture, we are essentially escaping the reality that our kids are not talented at something and instead are rewarding them for their accomplishment of making it through a season where they lacked anything remotely close to successful.

It is unfortunate that our trophy culture has even extended out to college. After a loss to Maryland 78–72, Coach Walz of the Louisville woman’s team discussed how he felt about our current trophy culture while describing the loss: “Right now the generation of kids that are coming through, everybody gets a damn trophy, okay? You finish last, you come home with a trophy. You kidding me? I mean, what’s that teaching kids? It’s okay to lose. And unfortunately, it’s our society… I mean, not to be too blunt, but you’re a loser,” he says. “Like, we’re losers. We got beat. You lost. There is no trophy for us. But unfortunately the way these kids are brought up today, there is a trophy. Because nobody wants anybody to have hard feelings; nobody wants to get their feelings hurt. But unfortunately in the real world — I’m not sure how it is with your all’s jobs — but with mine, if you lose enough, you get fired. And that’s just the way it is.” Walz makes an excellent point in describing how the real world plays into this mentality.

The trophy culture also very much exists through bowl game bids in college football. North Texas and Mississippi State, both teams with sub .500 records this season, have the chance to compete in bowl games. And let’s not kid ourselves: these games are played so that the NCAA can make more money, not because these teams deserved to play a postseason game.

A change needs to be made. We cannot keep having our streets flooded by protestors because they did not get the candidate they wanted. The way our society is, we expect to get our own way and to be rewarded for absolute mediocrity. The problem is: We are getting exactly that.

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