Things have changed in a lot of ways since I was a kid. I’m not athletic. I was always the last person picked for a team when we played kickball in gym class. In high school, I managed to duck gym class altogether. They required one credit, or two semesters, to get your high school diploma. Because I was graduating early, I took a health class and a psychology class my junior year, and they counted it for gym. Whew! That was a close one!
I wanted my kids to take part in sports. I thought is was important to have all the experiences that went along with competition. I wanted them all to feel comfortable, at ease with winning, losing, and participating.
These days, participation trophies are big. They don’t even keep score during the games any more. I’m not a big fan of Woody Allen, who says “eighty percent of life is showing up.” I am a big fan of Yoda, who says “Do or do not. There is no try.” That’s harsh, Yoda. Which camp are you in?
I think I’m somewhere in the middle here. As traumatic as my sports career was, I do see the value in athletic competition. In the traditional sense, I think that learning to lose important. Learning to win graciously is also critical to success in life. Participation trophies tend to take away both of those lessons.
If Mom or Dad pay the participation fees, you get a trophy. It doesn’t matter if you try your best. If you’re not keeping score, you wouldn’t even know if you won or lost. If you don’t want to expose your kid to the lessons learned from competition, there are other options. Teach them about stamp collecting. Pique their interest in astronomy. Introduce them to meditation, or help them learn another language. Don’t sign them up to play competitive sports and then insist that they earn a trophy just for being there.
In life, things don’t always go your way. In fact, they don’t even often go your way. If you reach adulthood without learning to deal with that, you’re in for a real slap in the face. When life comes right at you, like it will, you want to have some inkling of how to handle that disappointment. When you’ve made a mistake, or missed the mark, you need to know how to recognize that. You need to learn to shake the hand of someone on the “other team.” When you’ve played hard and won, you know you’re at the top of your game. You need to stay humble, and let other people sing your praises.