Its always funny to me, when I hear the people around me that complain about participation trophies…its more often been my experience that the folks doing the complaining tend to emulate they very definition of poor sportsmanship whether they win or lose.
Often I hear “there were no participation awards in my day” from my contemporaries. Um, WTF? I have about a dozen or so that my mom saved along with every piece of artwork and honor roll certificate I ever received. And guess what? My parents had some of those same types of awards…
And really, people have been receiving awards for not “winning” (however one defines that) for some time now, starting with the establishment of the Honorable Mention by the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1831 as a way to honor soldiers that had done brave deeds that weren’t quite brave enough for an actual award. Literally, an honorable mention was an official statement honoring an individual for doing something good, but not good enough.
Let’s face reality here: The vast majority of children will never play a professional sport or world competition level amateur sport. At most, a child may play a sport through high school and perhaps into college. Realistically (unless they go to a tiny school somewhere) they might not even play varsity unless they are pretty darn good, much less be regional or state champions. At best, for most children, sporting events are a flash in the pan of childhood; sound and fury, signifying nothing in the greater context of a life lived or the wider world.
And that’s not to say that sports do not have a value in the lives of children or in a child’s development into an adult, because they can. Rather, if your motivation to have your children play sports is to win, I’d say your motivation is in the wrong place to begin with (sadly, I’ve seen too many parents like this, or worse, the ones trying to live their childhood over again through their children regardless of their children’s interested).
As a parent now (and a former coach who has seen dozens of examples of the kind of parent I never wanted to coach, much less become myself when I had children), I only have one goal for my kids’ participation in sports–that it makes them a better person.
To determine this, I routinely my kids five questions…which is another post altogether.
I would rather have a child that is a “loser” with the skill to lose gracefully and get back up and try again when they fall down than some snotty brat shoving their 1st place trophy (literally or metaphorically) in another kid’s face (something else I’ve seen). I would rather have a child that dances or plays basketball or swims or runs for the ecstatic joy of movement and the love of the game itself than to win. 30 years down the road, my kids won’t remember the names of the meets they competed in or where they placed, but they will remember the experience of doing something fun and working hard (win or lose). They will remember that sometimes they won and sometimes they lost and neither one determined their worth as a person.
If a certificate helps to teach them that its the down and dirty diligent effort and not the score that makes them a better person, then so be it. If a little ribbon can remind them in a time of hardship that losing with grace as much a skill as winning with humility, then ribbons for all. If a little chunk of gold-painted plastic gives them the courage and encouragement to get up and try again after falling down and getting hurt or embarrassed or both, then what kind of jackass would take that away?
A kid that gets a participation award instead of a first place trophy knows they are a loser in the strictest sense of the word. But they know they are a winner too, in the ways and places where it actually counts in life—that they showed up, they played the game with honor, they did their damnedest, and they finished the season with their head up, with dignity and grace, geared to try again, win or lose. And in life, how many people can’t even claim that?