Please Don’t Give My Kid a Trophy

Little League was in full swing over Memorial Day weekend, and my son had two games. On Saturday, I watched my boy get up there to bat three times … only to strike out on three separate occasions. It was painful. I could make all kinds of excuses: The 14-year old umpire made a bunch of bad calls; the sun was in my child’s eyes; he was really tired after a late night get-together the night before. I could make excuses, but what is the point?

The reality is my kid is not a ‘ball boy.” He never has been.

My kid is cerebral. At 3-years old, he could easily build elaborate structures out of LEGO’s by following the often complicated instruction guides. These days, he has graduated to K’Nex and creates working shredders, beverage dispensers, even guns with working mechanisms. Granted, these devices shoot rubber bands or other K’Nex pieces, but still they are incredibly complicated little inventions. And the world needs engineers, right? That’s why they make pocket protectors.

So why am I all bent out of shape over his poor performance on the field?

"Little League Baseball" from metzgarpaul at flickr.com

I think it is because I am an athletic person, and sports have always come easily to me. I guess I’d hoped that by now – his 5th year in the League – he’d be more assertive in the sport and that those skills would transfer to his real life. I imagined he’d regularly hear his teammates praise him for catching a pop-fly or hitting a double or (dare I dream) a triple. I could hear them screaming his name as he slid into home, and as he stood up – his white pants brown and dusty – his teammates would smack him on the back and tell him of his awesomeness.

Bottom line: the fantasy didn’t happen. My child’s team got clobbered two days in a row, and he didn’t help much.

A friend of my husband’s recently commented, “The geeks rule the world,” and I guess I believe it to be true. I know everyone struggles somewhere and that adversity builds character; luckily, my child doesn’t define himself as a baseball player so his self-esteem is intact. Nevertheless, I think about these things as my son prepares to enter middle school. Perhaps I remember it all too well – the social hierarchy, and I know that no matter how cool computers have become in the last decade, sports are still important, and it is still easier to be a jock.

I hope they don’t give him some kind of trophy for “showing up” at this level of play. Frankly, he has more self-respect than to accept a bogus trophy for “participation.”


15 responses to “Please Don’t Give My Kid a Trophy

  1. 1st to comment! Yeah! Seriously, I am glad you brought this to light. My kids are on to the fact that regardless of their performance, good or bad, that everyone gets a trophy. The era of political correctness has taken over the lesson of competition. Should mediocrity be rewarded? What message are we sending our kids that it is okay to “just do okay”?

    I’m glad that your son doesn’t let it effect his self esteem. He’s a great kid. My oldest isn’t the star athlete that my husband was (at least not yet) and that is okay. He doesn’t expect to get a trophy for “just showing up” and that’s a good thing.

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  2. You did neglect to mention your son’s skill with a saber! We all have our strengths and I believe it is our role as parents to help direct our children to those areas where they use their strengths or where they find “their zone” or their passions.

    I think end of the season trophies for “showing up” should follow “snacks after every game and practice” and just go away!

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  3. I hate trophies.

    But I was thinking about this a lot watching baseball over the weekend. And it’s not just sports. We all want our children to succeed in everything they do. And its hard when they don’t. And our first reaction is to blame someone else – the teacher didn’t grade fairly, the other team’s pitcher was a giant (nothing like a 11 year old who is bigger than most of our team’s dads), etc.

    Growing up is hard. Being a person is hard. We don’t always get what we want or succeed like we want.

    And a trophy doesn’t make it better.

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  4. Renee, I couldn’t agree more! The children and the world are in no way served by rewarding mediocrity. This may ruffle a few feathers, and I know this isn’t a new debate, but giving trophy’s out for finishing in last place does not build self-esteem, it builds complacency, laziness and a feeling of entitlement. Feeling entitled does more harm than good in my opinion. I have two boys – 15 and 17 so I feel I have the right to state my opinion strongly. If you want your child to succeed in sports; in anything for that matter, don’t reward them for trying. Reward them for winning or succeeding. I don’t mean to imply that winning is everything, it is not. It is not the leagues or the coaches that should teach you how to lose but rather the parents. The leagues teach sportsmanship and how to succeed as a part of something larger – the team. Like it or not, failure happens. It is what you do because of failure that defines you! I was never a great athlete and was not rewarded for failure. I was taught to be proud of giving my all – no matter what the outcome. This lesson has served me well.

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  5. Know where you are– my boy’s greatest skill so far in Little League has been having a little tiny strike zone! My only goal for him has been to play well enough that the other players don’t mind having him on their team.

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  6. Craig, I disagree. People should be rewarded for trying. If fact, in sports, the team that wins is often the team that is trying harder. Awards for “Most Hustle” or “Best Prepared” are just as important as “MVP” or “Most Goals Scored.” Trophies that are based on attendance are not rewards for trying, they are rewards for having reliable parents.

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  7. Tough debate. My kids didn’t turn out to be athletic either, but that doesn’t stop them from trying (or, some days–NOT trying! My 6 year old spent an entire soccer season lying on the ball on the sidelines, refusing to play–while I coached the rest of the team). I”m not sure where I stand on the trophy debate. I agree that “rewarding” children just for showing up is absolutely ridiculous.

    But–I’ve also seem kids (not usually my own) who, despite poor skills/ability, work their butts off to try to succeed–truly “giving it their all”. Do we not reward these kids because they were not born with natural skills or talent? Does a child who succeeds without trying deserve reward any more than a child who works for their skills?

    Does hard work and devotion (especially in the face of adversity!) not deserve not deserve merit? Aren’t those more important life skills than natural talent?

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  8. What I took from this article I guess is a bit different. As a parent you look at your brand new bundle and you think/imagine all the possibilities this new life holds. Although you never say it, because you never want to push your dreams onto them, in your head you secretly hope, “Boy, I hope they’ll be artistic, or I hope they’ll love school as much as me…blah, blah,blah!” I always hoped that anyway, that one of my kids would be artistic, so I could share in the joy of creativity with them, or perhaps they would love school as much as I did! NO SUCH LUCK!!!! Notta one of ‘um! They hate school, in their words, “It sucks!” Ugh, someone just stab me in the heart!

    I guess my point is, it’s saying goodbye to our own dreams, our own expectations. Learning to love them for who they are and what they bring to the table. My middle daughter can’t draw a stick figure, but she is the most loving compassionate person I know, and she has decided to be a nurse. My oldest, can’t paint, but he wants to be a comedian, and can make me laugh like nobody’s business. My youngest can write fantastic poetry right off the top of her head, just give her a topic. So, perhaps they have creative genes, just in other ways. But they all hate school!

    It’s all about learning to accept people for who they are, and what their personal best is.

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    • I was definitely coming from two places with this blog entry.

      I wasn’t trying to be specific to baseball (necessarily) but I don’t love the idea of handing out trophies to kids/teams that haven’t performed well. I do agree with Craig in that I have seen the kind of reward system that creates children who only want a bigger trophy the next year. Last year my son’s b’ball team lost EVERY SINGLE STINKIN’ game except one; nevertheless, at the end of the season, each of the kids got these little trophies delivered to our homes. My husband and I looked at each other and threw the trophy in the trash. (Boy doesn’t know about this, and feel free not to tell him.) Why did we do this? Because my son’s team sucked. We didn’t want to give him the message that such horrendous playing resulted in a pretty award to be displayed on his bookshelf.

      It’s lovely to say hard work should be awarded, but for parents who espouse this, let me tell you what I hear eight years later in my Freshman English classes: “I worked 35 hours on this essay and I got a D on it, but so-and-so wrote the essay 1 hour before class and got an A! That isn’t fair.” Guess what? Just because something takes someone a long time doesn’t mean that person deserves a high grade – or a trophy. It just means that person has to work harder at something than his/her peers. That’s a good thing to know about oneself.

      Mary hit the other angle. The place parents don’t like to go, the dark place where one finally has to admit, “Okay, this kid isn’t going to be what I’d expected. He isn’t going to do the things I did or love the things I do.” I’m pretty much right there these days. I’m realizing my child has other skills and abilities that are excellent, and while they may not be necessarily appreciated by his peers right now, I think – in the long-term – he will thrive. He will be fine. By continuing to be his best self, even when the chips are down, despite the fact that he might get teased a little; by continuing to try his hardest even in the face of opposition – these are important life lessons – but it doesn’t mean he should get a trophy.

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  9. Mary–I think you put things beautifully, and gave a brilliant view of parenthood.

    As for the trophy….well, I can see all sides of the issue. I do feel that some part of it also depends on the type of team/activity. We have a recreation soccer league here. The goal of the organization is for the children to learn soccer skills in a positive, nurturing enviroment, with the focus on team play, fairness, and love of physical activity. There are no tryouts, no obligations. The teams are purposely mixed with poor, mediocre, and excellent players (for lack of more polite terms), and the season is short. It’s hard to get on a “good” team, as all of the teams are hopefully more equally matched. The goal is learning, not intense skill building. Winning and losing are rarely discussed (we usually don’t even think about the score). There are other levels of play that involve higher levels of skill and committment,

    For now, I’m coaching two soccer teams–one for my first grader, and one for my fourth grades. Every one of those kids goes on that field and plays their heart out. And although I don’t think either one of the teams actually won a game this season, I BELIEVE EVERY ONE OF THOSE GIRLS IS A WINNER, and it worthy of a trophy.

    That being said, we didn’t order any trophies, and they will have to settle for and end of season party and cupcakes with chocolate soccer balls instead of trophies.

    Maybe reward in any other form (than a trophy) is a better option?????

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  10. I forgot to add this link, which I thought perhaps went along with Mary’s view. We received it after talking with some friends about our son’s special needs, but I think the beautiful sentiment also spans to our wishes for our children (before they are born vs. who they turn out to be when they come out!!!).

    http://www.our-kids.org/Archives/Holland.html

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  11. Renee – I never meant to say that a person who puts a lot of time into a poor essay (or a lot of strikeouts) should be rewarded for their lousy result. But I do think that it is important to recognize true effort for its own sake. Did you work hard at something that is hard for you to do? That’s a noble cause. Even if you’re still lousy at it.

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    • Agreed. I do many things simply for the intrinsic love of the act of doing them. I think that is the main thing – and Jen touched on it, too: Getting kids to feel good about doing things just because they like them no matter what their skill level. And maybe – heaven forbid – even without cupcakes! LOL!

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  12. Leonard,

    I agree that a child should be rewarded for trying – just not with a trophy. A trophy is for first place, sometimes second and third. Not for last place or the team that had the best attitudes. The rewards for best attitude or trying hardest are the pat on the back or the feeling of knowing you’ve given it your all.

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  13. What is a trophy? It commemorates an outstanding achievement or an unusual event. Rewards are important and should be given when deserved. I believe parents must be smart enough to know that not everyone can be a top athlete, a debator, a community activities leader, or a great artist. The joy of just doing something for yourself and getting satisfaction at any level is the goal for happiness. We are all important in this big world. Don’t pressure your child just give him a chance to see if he likes it or not and move on to another adventure. Life is a journey of experiences.

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