I grew up receiving participation trophies
And I survived.
The Rio Olympics have been going onfor 10 days, quickly coming to a close before another quadrennial hiatus. The best in sport (you know, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Simone Biles) have been utterly dominant as years of hard work land them at the pinnacle of their respective sports.
Nope, the Olympics have been spoiled for me by the “if my child is ever going to earn a gold medal, they’d better not start with participation trophies” crowd.
Wow. I mean, I have a five-year-old and a three-year-old. I understand that the likelihood that they become Olympians is not very high. They likely won’t ever wear Olympic gold around their necks. That’s OK. You know what, they might not even make their high school teams or win state championships. Maybe for them, participation trophies in city leagues are the pinnacle of their sporting careers.
For me, it was. I played baseball, but only until I was 11 or 12. I played basketball for a season or two. I got participation trophies. I kept them for years. In fact, they may still be in my mom’s basement.
I’m more active competitively as I’ve ever been as I approach 30, and guess what? I still get participation trophies. I ran a half-marathon this year. I had some crazy friends talk me into a couple of Spartan races. They all came with participation medals. I didn’t win anything, but it felt real nice to have something hung on my neck and get a high-five from a stranger congratulating me on not dying.
And you know what? I’m not ruined. I’m not broken. I don’t think everything is going to be handed to me because I received a participation trophy. I don’t think that all I have to do is try and I’ll be rewarded the same as the person next to me who was twice as fast, twice as smart, or worked twice as hard. I knew the difference between getting a participation trophy and the trophy rewarded to the winners of the league. I wasn’t stupid, and my kids won’t be either.
If you’re taking away participation medals from your kids, you’re contributing to a society that is chewing up and spitting out kids younger than ever before. You’re showing them that if they did not win, if they are not superior, then they are nothing.
That’s not how I want my kids growing up. That’s not the lesson that I want them learning from youth sports. I want them learning that sometimes trying is good enough. Sometimes if you’re not the best at something, it doesn’t mean you’re not good at it. Sometimes being part of a team is just as valuable as coming out on top. The worth of my children won’t be quantified by the number of championship trophies earned.
But don’t tell that to the anti-participation trophy crowd. And for crying out loud, please don’t let them see this. They’ll be crushed.