I'm not exactly sure why "Trophy Culture" has bubbled to the surface now, because "Trophy Culture" has existed for more than 25 years. I know this because I first started playing youth sports more than a quarter century ago, and a trophy was given to me after that season.
I played sports throughout childhood -- football, basketball and baseball -- and a trophy was given to me after each season. Some of the teams I played on were good, and we were given large trophies. Some of those teams were bad, and we were given small trophies.
But the existence of a trophy did not lull me or my peers into a false sense of accomplishments. We knew when we were good, and we knew when we were bad. When one team earned a trophy so big their parents had to carry it for them while we went home with oversized paperweights, none of us said, "We both got trophies, therefore we are the same."
Notice the repeating verb in the second paragraph: given. No youth athlete decides to play a given sport because they'll get a trophy afterwards. Seven-year-olds do not make contract demands; and if they do, they're for a trip to a concession stand after each game, not a trophy at some point in the future.
It is adults who created "Trophy Culture," who raised their kids in that culture, and are now lashing out at a generation who grew up a culture they themselves created for them.
It's with that rant I bring you this: Bryce Harper decrying "Trophy Culture" to a gathering of children.
It's a bit contradictory the rise against "Trophy Culture" at a time when Nick Saban is the most celebrated coach in college football.
Saban is the most successful coach in college football history in large part because he rejects the main lesson from the resistance to "Trophy Culture." The message Harper, James Harrison and others teach to children when emphasizing winning is that the end result is the only thing that matters in a given game or season. Did you win or did you not?
Now compare that to Saban's famous Process, as he explained days before beating Notre Dame for the 2012 national championship:
“Well, the process is really what you have to do day in and day out to be successful,” he said. “We try to define the standard that we want everybody to sort of work toward, adhere to, and do it on a consistent basis. And the things that I talked about before, being responsible for your own self-determination, having a positive attitude, having great work ethic, having discipline to be able to execute on a consistent basis, whatever it is you’re trying to do, those are the things that we try to focus on, and we don’t try to focus as much on the outcomes as we do on being all that you can be.
“Eliminate the clutter and all the things that are going on outside and focus on the things that you can control with how you sort of go about and take care of your business. That’s something that’s ongoing, and it can never change.”
Again, for emphasis:
"We don’t try to focus as much on the outcomes as we do on being all that you can be."
If Nick Saban thinks the message -- the thesis statement of his coaching career -- he should drive home day after day to his team of highly-trained, impossibly-gifted 18-to-22 year olds is to focus on your execution, have a positive attitude, to emphasize discipline, to be the best player you can be and trust the final score will work itself out in the end if you do all the little things right.... why are we telling our 7-year-olds to worry about winning first and figure out everything else later?
Is winning important? Of course it is. But in solving one problem in youth sports culture I'd hate to see us go so far in the other direction that we create another, more significant problem.