Participation trophy

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 13, 2016, 7:55 PM | comments: 0

Simon did a local parks & rec soccer league for a couple of months this year. He wasn't particularly good at it, but he seemed to enjoy it and made some progress throughout the season. At the end of the season, at a team gathering, everyone on the team got a trophy. For showing up.

I get that my kid is 6, and every day we make decisions about what to do to help him, and when to let him "struggle." I already thought it was a little weird that there was no score keeping, but I could roll with that. However, I was a little taken aback by the idea of granting trophies for showing up. It's not like we could deny that with all of the other kids getting one. A trophy implies some kind of achievement or above-average accomplishment. There isn't anything special about showing up.

There have been a lot of jokes made about participation trophies, especially in relation to millennials. I have some first-hand experience with this. Back in 2005, when I was coaching varsity volleyball at a small, private high school, I recall having a conversation with the girls about what it means to be exceptional. My assistant coach, who was at most only five years older than some of them, totally understood this as well. When a few kids were putting volleyball second, and missing a practice, for other things (like Spanish club and who knows what else), the talk was necessary. The kids insisted, "We need all of these things for college entrance and resumes," etc.

Me and Liz broke it down like this: Every kid in college is going to have all of the same things in their past, and you will not be special. A large volume of activities in high school doesn't make you well-rounded... it just means you're average at a lot of things. However, if you commit to something and work hard to be better at it, that's something that can make you stand out. Otherwise, you're just showing up. The kids found this perspective wholly depressing, but admitted we were probably telling the truth.

I think that overall, the millennials get a bad rap and a silly stereotype. I am, after all, part of the slacker Generation-X. (And suck it, world... we made the Internet what it is today, and we're the new industrialists.) However, the stereotypes are at least partially rooted in some upbringing, and I saw it first hand. Little Sally "deserved" play time, and didn't have to earn it, if you believe what their parents had to say.

The bottom line is that I want my kid to have a happy childhood, but I don't ever want to give him the impression that showing up makes you special. That would not serve him at all.


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