Apparently the topic of whether every kid should get a trophy is still a hot debate. I’ve noticed that the people who complain about creating a “trophy mentality” are often the winners, the parents of winners + coaches of winning teams. “Why should everyone get a trophy they didn’t earn?” they gripe.
In their eyes, my kids who have played youth sports for years, shouldn’t have a single trophy to their name. My son is now 10-years old, and has been playing baseball since he was 3. He has a shelf full of trophies, but you’ll never see him tooting his trophy horn. In our family, we like to say that we’re really good…at showing up. We show up on time to practices, we show up on time to games, we listen to our coaches, and we try our best. Unfortunately, our best is often not as good as some of the others.
For the past few years, we’ve had 3 kids playing basketball. We offer them $5 for their first basket, and $1 for each subsequent basket. Last year, this cost us exactly $0. This year we’ve spent $19 so far. I’d say that’s a huge improvement, 3 games in. We’re hoping to go broke by the end of the season, but we’re not saving up. Our kids try really hard, but they just aren’t the star players. My 10-year old is the most competitive kid on the planet, and it absolutely kills him that his body doesn’t do what his heart wants so badly to do.
He leaves a lot of games completely heartbroken that he didn’t do anything great. This year, he’s determined to improve, so he comes home from school and spends hours out on the driveway working to improve his game. And he HAS improved! I see a HUGE difference in how he handles the ball, and his confidence in shooting under pressure. He doesn’t look at his shelf of trophies and think he somehow is the king of the court. He knows he has work to do, and he is trying really hard to do it.
Those trophies represent so much more than winning or losing. They represent hours + months + years of work, gallons of sweat + buckets of tears.
One year in baseball, my son’s team somehow won the final tournament, and got a 1st place trophy. While he wasn’t the star player, my boy definitely knows the difference between that trophy and the regular participation ones.
I can relate. As a marathon runner, I have a growing collection of finisher-medals. I don’t mistake them for anything more. I don’t have the feeling that I somehow won the race because I got a medal. Heck no. I’ve never earned a penny for my participation in these races. In fact, I had to start coaching other runners to fund my obsession/hobby.
But these medals represent to me what I think my kids’ trophies represent to them. I have freaking shown up.
When my 4th baby was 4 weeks old, I started training for a marathon. My husband was getting his MBA at the time, and had to leave for school on Saturdays by 7 am. So when my alarm went off at 3 am so I could get up and nurse my newborn before leaving on a 20-miler that would have me home before breakfast, I showed up.
When I was deep into another training cycle and found out I was pregnant with baby #5, I didn’t let my pregnancy-induced-exhaustion + sickness keep me from running. 8-weeks pregnant with 26.2 ahead of me, I showed up.
I am a super clumsy runner + I like to run fast. This can be a bad combination on cold, dark mornings. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come home from a run with cut-up hands + skinned knees. But instead of quitting mid-run, I’ve picked myself up, dusted myself off, let the tears fall, and kept running. I kept showing up.
Heck, I even fell off a treadmill at the local YMCA once. I was scraped and bloody and wanted to run to my car with my tail between my legs. Lots of nice onlookers ran to my aide. Embarrassed, but okay, I got back up. I kept running as if it had never happened, though the scrape on my chin said otherwise.
I can only imagine the elation of actually WINNING a race. You’d better believe the winners have shown up in a BIG way. The same goes for the winning teams of any youth sport. Those kids and coaches have SHOWN UP. And I think they know + feel the difference between their winning medals/trophies and ours.
My medals don’t make me feel like THE best. But you’d better believe they make me feel like a rockstar. They make me feel like I can do anything I set my mind to. They tell me I can do hard things, because LOOK! I’ve done them before!
My kids trophies don’t tell them they’ve won championships. They tell them that they’ve shown up when they needed to. They’ve kept a freaking commitment, even when it would’ve been real easy to stay home watching cartoons. They were a part of a TEAM, something bigger than themselves. The trophies tell them that THEIR best really IS enough. They kept playing EVEN when it was hard. EVEN when they weren’t THE winner. They know the difference.
There will be a time + place to separate the weak from the strong. My 10-year old is starting to see for himself where his strengths and weaknesses lie. He won’t play baseball in college, or probably even High School for that matter. He’s played it for years, but it isn’t his passion.
But basketball–he LOVES basketball. His confidence has grown this year along with his skills. He keeps showing up on and off the court, and I believe that if he wants to keep showing up, he has what it takes to go as far as his dreams (which might only be as far as High School, but that’s okay). He may go on to coach his own kids someday where he’ll teach them to keep showing up.
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