Let me begin by saying that I am not, have never been and will likely never be a Pittsburgh Steelers Fan! However, I have recently become a fan of Pittsburgh Steelers' Linebacker, James Harrison and his position on participation trophies for youth sports. This doesn’t mean I’ll be hanging up his poster or wearing his jersey anytime soon, but I do appreciate his willingness to take a stand on this issue.
Here’s the issue: In most youth sports today trophies are handed out to all participants regardless of team record/position or player’s ability. Just sign up, pay up, show up and your child will get a participation trophy at the end of the season.
When James Harrison’s sons recently came home with “participation trophies” he had them promptly returned. He said, “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 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.”
Back in the day (you know someone is old when they say that!), but really, back in the day trophies meant something because they were achievement based rather than participation based. It meant your team stood out, or your effort stood out in a special way. Also, back in the day (there I go again) if you were on the team you received a participation certificate. My mom still has those participation certificates in a box somewhere, and I imagined that had they been participation trophies they would be in that same box for as much as they would have meant to me.
When I played in youth sports the top three teams were given trophies, so youth sports became the first place where I learned about setting goals, working hard, and being part of team working on something together. I also experienced both the reward of hard work (when the team received a trophy), and the challenges of failure (when there was no trophy).
Failure is NOT fun, and it can be painful! But we do our children a disservice by trying to shield them from failure. There is no doubt that failure is one of life’s great educators and motivators. General Colin Powell, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.” (Search the internet for "quotes about failure" and you will find great lessons for life!).
We don’t want to take away a child’s experience of victory, and we should not want to take away the child’s experience of failure. Working through failure, with supportive adults, can help children learn how to overcome adversity, gain confidence, work harder and become more determined in life. In this world they are going to need those skills far more than a participation trophy!