It’s been years since I got a Little League trophy.
And being the below-average player I was, the only reason I got it is that at our season-ending team dinner, the coach gave a trophy to everyone.
He even threw in some complimentary words about my contributions, which—to be honest—were scant. It was not a good year for me on the diamond.
I thought of that trophy recently when I saw a story claiming that participation trophies are a good idea and bolstered the writer’s self-esteem.
In further researching this topic, I came across a bevy of such stories. They included this two-year-old item about Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison.
Harrison touched off a social media storm when he announced on Instagram that he would be sending back the trophies his six- and eight-year-old sons received “until they earn a real trophy.”
While the majority of parents applauded Harrison, it appears the sentiment hasn’t penetrated the corridors of those running youth leagues across the country.
Judging by occasional remarks I’ve heard from various states, participation trophies are still all the rage, along with a “we don’t keep score” ethic.
The funniest thing about that is who can tell you the score of supposedly non-scoring games: all the kids who are playing. The very ones who supposedly will have their tender feelings bruised if someone acknowledges there was a winner—and a loser.
The thing about a trophy is it is supposed to acknowledge something special. Regardless of whether it’s a game, an academic achievement, or another endeavor, it signifies accomplishment.
If everyone gets a trophy, then no one gets a trophy worth having. To draw a parallel, I have told a number of inexperienced writers, “You have to be sparing in your use of italics or exclamation points. If everything’s important, then nothing’s important.”
Now, I’m not against instructional leagues where the emphasis is more on teaching youngsters how to play the game than who wins.
And, I’ve seen out-of-control parents bellow at umpires and act as if their child’s future professional career is on the line because of a bad call.
But in trying to compensate for the irrational and over-the-top parents who place a premium on winning and forget about sportsmanship, I think we have overreacted.
This “everyone is special” idea has penetrated into other quarters of society, as exemplified by graduations for every level of kid-dom. Even for preschoolers.
What did the little tykes do to earn their diploma? Drink all their juice box without spilling it on their shirt? Learn that there are A-B-C’s, even if they can’t line them up yet? Or just act really nice?
I would suggest that those who want to treat everyone as special are the unkind ones. As David Brooks so aptly points out in The Road to Character, today’s self-esteem-oriented parents are raising a generation of self-centered kids who go on to become self-centered adults.
A number of commentators—The Washington Post’s George Will among them—have commented about all the “snowflakes” on college campuses.
Namely, students who are catastrophically injured by the very idea that someone might disagree with them. And demand “safe zones” where they can be protected from intellectual debate or opposing ideas.
Where do you think those snowflakes came from? It started with participation trophies and A’s for everyone. All that is doing is failing to prepare young people for the real world.