I’ve written about my thoughts on participation trophies before. Since then, I’ve come across a couple of dissenting opinions. One was from my own father and the other was from a recent Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) post.
My dad was my coach for many of my youth recreational sports. When I introduced this blog to him and highlighted one of the key tenets of my Hustle & Attitude philosophy involving equal playing time for all the children on the team regardless of skill and ability, my dad indicated he disagreed. He told me how being the back-up catcher on his town’s youth baseball team spurred him to work harder to beat out the kid who was the starter. He did work hard and took over the starting position. Further, he told me that he can’t be sure, but perhaps this lesson – that, if you want something, you have to work for it – even learned at such an early age, was key in his achieving so much in his life. My dad served 23 years in the Air Force including a tour in Vietnam and has been a model husband and father for me. He explains that he was never handed anything – he had to earn everything he got. I very much appreciate his perspective.
I told my dad that this sounded more like what today’s select/travel team participants experience. Select/travel leagues are different from recreational sports leagues. In the Hustle & Attitude philosophy there isn’t really a starter at any position as I encourage each child to play every position and to get equal playing time each game and throughout the season. There were many seasons that my son Jacen was the best catcher on our team. However, being left-handed, if he wanted to continue to play baseball, eventually he would need to be able to play other positions. If we were playing each game to win, Jacen belonged behind the plate because of his skill and ability. However, we were playing to learn the game, work together as a team, and have fun. So, he played multiple positions. Jacen now plays first base, outfield, and pitcher; more traditional positions for a lefty.
My dad also believes that giving every child the same trophy can lead to a sense of entitlement. This is one of the points Vaughn Bryant, Chief Program Officer for the Chicago Park District, makes in his PCA Development Zone video. Another point Bryant emphasizes is that participation trophies undermine the message inherent in sports that there are winners and losers in competition. As I said in my previous post, the kids know who won and who lost each game. They also know who the best skilled players are on their team and in the league. Giving a trophy to each child doesn’t invalidate that knowledge. Further, whether they get a trophy at the end of the season or not, winning always feels better than losing. The kids I coach – who know that I expect them to hustle all the time and maintain the right attitude – will strive to be their best in order to try to win…whether they know that only the kids on the championship team get a trophy or if every child gets one. Bryant gives an example of running a mile and that, only by working at it will the child get better or faster. Agreed. Where some might only give a trophy to the winner of the race, I think there is value in recognizing the kid that finished 12th, but set a personal best because of their hustle and attitude.