Enough with the participation trophy mentality. DO hard things!
I remember that moment so many years ago.

His name, yes, my precious baby boy’s name, announced for all to hear. Our tow headed blessing stepped forward and that grin, which captured the hearts of far too many four year old girl teammates, radiated across the field.  The coach presented him with his very first trophy and our son clutched it tight.

This momma beamed with pride. You see, “He deserved it!”

We drove home and that sparkling trophy claimed a place of honor right on his nightstand; for awhile. That spot soon became inundated with more pieces of metal. From soccer, basketball, baseball, then football,  trophies began to pile up like scratch paper and safety pins in our junk drawer.

They finally made their way to a cardboard box and were hauled to the attic during one of the “clean your room or else” days, never to be thought of again until years later when they ended up at Goodwill.

He never knew they were gone.

You see, these participation trophies weren’t given because of the character demonstrated on the field. It wasn’t because he showed up day in and day out in freezing cold weather  and gave it his all or even because he choose to be a servant leader on the court. It wasn’t awarded because their team fought hard and won in the final inning.

It was because someone, somewhere, who didn’t know anything about my child’s make up or work ethic or even his commitment level to the team, decided that every child needs to feel good about themselves, at all times, in all situations, whether they participated well or not, whether they had a team attitude or not, whether they even gave it their all.

Someone determined that merely showing up somehow equaled success. That just being present, even if you have a bad attitude at every practice, is somehow presidential.

Trust me, with five kids who have played five different sports, I have seen it all. From the tiny tots league to Division 1 play, there are some astonishing life stories I could tell (and most stem from parents, but that’s an entirely different post.)

Let’s save money on youth sports budgets and stop with the “Just Show up and we’ll give you a trophy” Mentality.

Because honestly, this isn’t about the trophy. For years, we’ve accepted them, but it’s the entitlement mentality behind it that’s permeating all aspects of the next generation.

Somewhere along the line, we aren’t expecting our kids to do the hard things; to develop character through sports. We rescue them for any difficulty and allow excuses at every turn. What happened to encouraging them to push through the fatigue even when they are set on giving up, to keep a good attitude even when getting creamed, to not blame every single issue on the ref or the coach you don’t like?

I’m cringing at the entitlement mentality (and yes, I’ve seen it demonstrated with our own children and have fought through that with a vengeance.)

Do we really want to encourage our kids with the message that mediocre is award worthy?

Do we want to affirm the child that doesn’t commit fully to a team, skips practice for no good reason and has no desire to work as a team player? (Parents, we may need to think about this before signing our child up for a sport?) What does it tell the other hard working kids when the others walk off the stage at awards night with a participation trophy (or medal etc) and they’ve been told that their actions are award worthy?

Now here is where I want to make myself clear, this is not about just giving awards to those who excel on the athletic field.

I am not a win at all costs parent. I have been a varsity football parent for a team who lost every game and I could not have been more proud of my son than during that very difficult season. It stunk, but it changed him. It changed me. It’s during those kind of seasons where character is determined and unfortunately, I can’t say it fared very well for many others on that team, nor their parents. It was revealing.

Having coached myself, I would rather honor the kid that may not score all season, but shows up every day, comes with a great attitude and has an excellent work ethic, rather than the child who gives 10% all year, but ends up being the MVP. That only lasts so long and eventually that does break down. I’ve witnessed phenomenal athletes who had everything handed to them on a silver platter through high school, lose their full sports, college scholarship because the “participation trophy mentality” no longer cut it.

One of the character awards we give out to our basketball teams is the Hustler Award. In my father’s opinion, (he played basketball at University of Wisconsin), he would rather receive the hustler award than MVP. While the MVP excels athletically, he/she may just have pure athletic ability without having a team player, work hard at all costs, mentality. 

The Hustler award shows determination, perseverance and the heart to go the extra mile. It’s typically not someone who has a lot of points, but they give 110% percent on the court and show character.

If you’re involved in youth sports, I’m just sharing food for thought from years of experience. There is no “right” way, but I know that society is enabling a “participation mentality” without character that can’t be good for our children long term.

We just closed out another sports season and had our end of the year banquet. None of our kids were recognized this year. Truthfully, that same momma’s heart that years ago yelled, “He deserved it,” wanted to hear their name be called now. Every parent wants their child to be “known,” but their true worth doesn’t come from being honored in sports. Their worth comes from something much more eternal.

As a parent, that truth is what needs to be poured into their lives on a regular basis and when they know their value isn’t developed around some sports field than the true life trophies can begin.

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