It is no secret how plenty of people feel about the shinny plastic object, we have named “participation trophies”.
Like many, I grew up around the dawn of the participation trophy era. I played on more recreational, school, club, competitive teams then I care to count. We all know the drill, on the last day of the season kids are handed some cheap plastic trophy or medal and they go on their way. I often would shove the medal into a random drawer, never to be seen again.
Although the debate around participation trophies has become an easy things for critics to demolish, I had not thought about them for a while until last week when I was listening to a football podcast. During the podcast the host started discussing the dismantling of athletes as competitors by way of participation trophy. Which led me to explore the entire topic a little bit more. What value do participation awards have? Do they make kids turn into un-coachable teens and young adults? Or are we criticizing the wrong thing?
So. many. questions.
What has become the most interesting part of this topic is that there’s no definitive answer. Perhaps blaming an entire generation of kids for their perceived lack of work ethic is misguided. Perhaps instead we should be shifting blame away from the kids who receive the trophies and on to the parents that insist that they are given. Not only on the parents who insist that they are given, but why they do.
I would argue a case that a certain generation’s coach-ability is not contingent on whether or not they celebrated participation but has a whole lot more to do with the attitude towards athletics that a kid grows up with. The word entitled gets thrown around a lot when the subject of participation trophies get brought up, but why is that linked to the trophy and child, not the parents?
For a clearer idea, here’s an example that most coaches have experienced far too often and know far too well. After my fiance’s season opener last year I witnessed the type of behavior from an athlete’s parent that all coaches truly loath. I was down on the field congratulating him on his first win as a Defensive Coordinator when suddenly a player’s dad came right up next to us and started shouting, demanding to know why his 19 year old son hadn’t gotten playing time.
So, what does it matter if a kid got a participation trophy in youth athletics if this is the example set by the parents later? If parents believe that that type of behavior towards a coach is acceptable then why is it that we as a society continue to blame pieces of plastic?
The truth about participation trophies, might just be that they’re an easy scapegoat to shirk responsibility. Maybe, just maybe, kids “entitlement” or “un-coachable-ness” has a lot less to do with participation trophies and a lot more to do with the example set by parents.