Sunday, August 17, 2014

Trophies for Everybody? Or Nobody?

If you pay attention to the Intrawebs these days and have kids, no doubt you are aware of the tedious "Everyone Gets a Trophy" debate.

If you've somehow missed this debate, consider yourself lucky. Basically, the question revolves around whether awarding participation trophies to all members of a league or organization teaches kids that losing is ok (or worse, that nobody ever loses in a world of rainbows and unicorns, leading to a sense of entitlement later in life) or whether it establishes self-esteem in kids that they at least completed a task, even if they weren't the best.

Unfortunately, like any social discourse these days, there is either a Wrong/Right, Black/White, My Way/Highway resolution that involves no room for nuance or discussion. (Otherwise, who would continue to click on the links?) And since very few issues outside of slavery have boiled down to Wrong/Right, we never fully reach a fully vetted conclusion and just let the wind take us to where the people speak the loudest.

And the wind in this case has led us to say NO to participation trophies. Fine by me, but (and close your ears if you hate participation trophies) my kid got a participation trophy. And I LIKED it.

He was four years old when he entered his second season if T-Ball this spring. The goal of the league was to teach 4- and 5-year-olds how to throw, catch, hit, run bases, and most importantly, pay attention when somebody is talking to them. In other words, what we as parents can never seem to do.

Everybody batted each inning. Each hitter got one base whether the ball went to the outfield or trickled out to the pitcher's mound. The last hitter each inning hit a grand slam, driving in the remaining baserunners. Nobody kept score, and each game lasted one hour.

For the folks bemoaning those rules, consider that over the course of a 12-game season, we saw a total of two "outs" recorded. One of those came when the batter hit the ball and ran a third of the way to first base, then immediately veered and ran to second base, so technically he was out of the baseline.

The second out came when the batter hit the ball and walked toward first base but then stopped to write his name in the dirt. This allowed the players on our team to flock to the ball like seagulls to a discarded bread bowl, fight over the ball, drop the ball, pick the ball up, drop it again, pick it up, throw it over the first baseman's head, watch the first baseman retrieve it, then tag the base for the out.

If we were playing "real" rules, by the end of the season, we still would have been in the top of the first inning of the first game. And we're worried that these kids get trophies? Every single person involved, parents included, deserved an award for sitting through that. (Baseball purists would argue that nobody gets a trophy.)

Running hard...the ball is somewhere over the first baseman's head.
If the goal is to light competitive fires under the losers, an end-of-year ceremony to dole out trophies only to the deserving would require two things: (1) That kids get the dandelions out of their ears and actually pay attention, and (2) An understanding that 5-year-olds are going to sweep the awards in a 4-5-year-old league unless a 4-year-old is the next Barry Bonds. "Congratulations, Owen, for being the oldest and biggest kid on the team. The rest of ya, eat your veggies, your Wheaties, your beans and weenies and try again next year." Most kids I know just aren't that competitive.

Or are they? My son developed his own competitive fire, asking me after the last several games if his team won. I told him that it was a tie, and he acted as if I had asked him to go give his sister a big smooch on the lips. (What, you wanted me to artificially inflate his ego by saying he "won" when his team couldn't even record an out?)

So there has to be an age when we start awarding trophies only to winners...but if each participant develops a sense of competition at a different age, where do we start?

We start at age 9. Sounds arbitrary enough, but most 9-year-olds are in third grade, and third grade is when we start to see the physical advantages of age and development begin to disappear...we'll never have the perfect age because each child is different. Plus it was at that age that I flung my baseball glove across the outfield during another losing baseball game, one where we allowed 14 runs in the last inning to lose a very winnable game, 17-6.

Therefore, my alternative to the polarizing yes/no question of participation trophies for all kids...yes until age nine, after that you're going to have to show us something to bring home the hardware, if trophies are your thing. I'll be honest, I can't find a single one of mine, big or small. My dad gave me one he brought home after winning a 10K 35 years ago, not sure where that one is either.

Wait, do we even need trophies at all?

No comments:

Post a Comment