My seven year old son plays sports. Since I am the type of mom who insists on one activity at a time, he plays soccer during soccer season and basketball during basketball season. So how come, after only two years of playing sports, he has more trophies than I ever got during my entire middle school and high school sports career?
My son participates in relatively laid back sports leagues. There are no awards banquets or most valuable player trophies given at the end of a season. Generally, the parents are well-behaved at games. I am thankful for this because I think sports in the elementary school years should be about learning the particular sport and having fun. I would have to reconsider letting him play in organized sports if our community was one of those with hard-core, competitive leagues for elementary school children.
Instead of trophies for highest scorer or best defender, the sports leagues my son has been involved in have decided to give all participants a trophy at the end of each season. After the first soccer season, my son was thrilled with his participant trophy. I didn’t think it was necessary, but I also thought it was harmless.
However, my son decided that he loved soccer. He wanted to play fall soccer. Then spring soccer the next year. Then fall soccer again. So, now we are up to four soccer trophies. He also decided to join his friends on the basketball court this winter. At the end of the season he was presented with, you guessed it, a basketball trophy.
He no longer gets excited when he gets a trophy. The coach gives it to him, he says thank you, carries it home, and sticks it on the shelf with his other trophies to collect dust. I now think the trophies are one of so many other examples of the empty praise we fill our children with in modern society. My son is old enough to know that trophies are traditionally given for exceptional achievements in sports or other areas. He scored one goal in four seasons and had a lot of fun, but he knows who the really good soccer players on his team were. And, he also knows that they, just like him, received the same trophy for showing up to most of the games.
So, if everyone gets a trophy just for showing up, then what does the trophy mean? It doesn’t mean that the kids played exceptionally well. Maybe it is supposed to be an incentive to keep the kids showing up from game to game. But showing up for each game is really more the parent’s achievement, not the child’s. The kids can’t get to the games on their own. Many of the kids aren’t even old enough to read the game schedules yet, much less be self-motivated enough to remind their parents that they have a game.
I like to think that the kids don’t play for trophies. They play for fun and for the chance that they might be the one to score a goal or two, or if they are lucky, many. The best trophy my son has from all four seasons of soccer is the memory of scoring a goal, his only one, which he’d practiced and worked hard to get. Now that is a trophy that won’t collect any dust.
If each and every sports league my son plays in gives a participation trophy, by the time he graduates from high school we are going to have to have a trophy case installed in his bedroom to display them all. Or, maybe he would have lost interest in sports by then and the trophies will be sitting in a box in the attic somewhere as proof that he actually got out of the house and got some exercise when he was a kid.
I would like to ask the organizers of these leagues what they would like us to do with all these trophies. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at first. Maybe they still think it’s a good idea. I’m thinking it’s a practice that should come to an end. I don’t imagine any mother is going to display all these trophies in her home once her child is past middle school age. And, I can’t imagine the children, once they are adults, are going to ask for their participation trophies so they can proudly display them in their own home. They’re going to have to save the room for their own children’s participation trophies.
When I was a kid, growing up in the 1970’s, we didn’t have organized sports for elementary school-aged children. The first sports team I was on was a sixth-grade soccer team. It was an informal league. We didn’t even have uniform t-shirts and the only team we played was the other sixth-grade soccer team at our school. We didn’t get trophies at the end of the season. But, I still remember some game highlights. There was the time we sang about being ducks on one drizzly, muddy game day. I don’t remember too much about soccer from that season, but I do remember having fun with my friends.
I think kids now are going to have the same types of memories. At least I hope that my son will. These are the memories that count. The trophy doesn’t represent any of these things. It doesn’t even really represent soccer or basketball, even though each one has a picture of miniature ball on it. The things he has learned about sports he has stored in his mind, not in some dust-covered trophy on a shelf in his bedroom. He talks about the game where the field was so muddy that everyone had mud going all the way up their back. He talks about the goal he scored and the countless other goals that he almost scored. He talks about the kids on his team, but he never once mentions the trophies.