Sunday, January 24, 2016

How Kids Lose when Everyone gets a Trophy

My 1976 All Star Trophy
It has come to my attention that children playing sports today get too many trophies. From what I've seen working in the schools for the past seven years, most children have more trophies than I have socks.

I wonder whom exactly this serves. Unlike today's kids, I can say I actually played sports for years without winning a single trophy, but what my athletic career taught me transcended the lessons learned on the field.
My life without trophies goes back to when my brother's little league team won two straight championship trophies. I decided that I needed one of those.
Playing in prelittle league, my team finished first, but no trophy was awarded. This was tough to swallow-but I looked ahead anyway. The lineup from my brother's team had mostly moved on, but many of the same last names remained by the time I got there, which meant we had a good chance for our own hardware.
The little brothers played well but late in the season we came up short of 1st place after losing to the perennial bottom feeders in the league. We left the field in shock, but even with no trophy, I took pride as a contributor to a good team that didn't shine quite as bright as our lineage.
I did earn an all-star trophy the following year, and then had to survive until my junior year in high school without any manufactured glory.
I won a third place medal after three years of wrestling at Somers High School, but its dull glare meant little compared to what the experience taught me. My junior year I suffered weekly losses to two freshman teammates. It was, in a word, emasculating.
3rd Place - 1981 Divisionals
I hit bottom losing a junior varsity match in Mount Vernon to another freshman. That night, I got on the team bus, threw a coat over my head and cried. I had become a worse wrestler as a junior than when I began two years earlier. I had little reason to continue, especially considering the gut wrenching two and a half hour practices.
If this story was from Hollywood, a sectional championship would have followed, but this was real life. Slowly it began to click and wrestling became like writing poetry, as all my moves had a melodic rhythm to them. I earned a varsity slot and a chance to wrestle in the sectionals.
In the semi-finals of the qualifying tournament, I had my opponent facing up, with the finals clearly in my sights. Overeager, I ended up getting pinned, but still qualified for the sectionals. 

On my way to the finals until...

The following week, I wrestled the top-rated 98-pounder in the county to a first period draw before he showed me the ceiling and ended my season.
Afterwards, my coach gave me a measured compliment that didn't over-dramatize my efforts. "You're coming along just like your brother," he said, in describing another Monetti who didn't star but endured.

My perseverance ended an adolescent catastrophe, and I didn't have to wear a coat on my head. More importantly, I've drawn upon the experience in my real life struggles.
So why do parents today rob children of the chance to provide their own rewards and learn important life lessons? Could it be the guilt that accumulates over 60-hour workweeks that makes parents want to give their
children more rewards than they actually need? How about the chance for parents to erase past failures through their children's successes? I think these reasons contribute, but probably not significantly.
More likely, various organizations started this practice and it spread. From there, parents might not have wanted to come off as ogres in the community by objecting. In my less than scientific research, most parents are against distributing too many trophies. Maybe finding a more middle ground solution simply means a little assertiveness and a show of hands at the next soccer game.
Even the kids are starting to understand. One parent told me that after receiving a soccer trophy for best goal of the year (kicked in from midfield), his son was satisfied that "this trophy actually counts."

Now, if the adults could only get the message.

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