More on Participation Trophies (my Dad & the PCA)

Gold_TrophyI’ve written about my thoughts on participation trophies before.  Since then, I’ve come across a couple of dissenting opinions.  One was from my own father and the other was from a recent Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) post.

My dad was my coach for many of my youth recreational sports.  When I introduced this blog to him and highlighted one of the key tenets of my Hustle & Attitude philosophy involving equal playing time for all the children on the team regardless of skill and ability, my dad indicated he disagreed.  He told me how being the back-up catcher on his town’s youth baseball team spurred him to work harder to beat out the kid who was the starter.  He did work hard and took over the starting position.  Further, he told me that he can’t be sure, but perhaps this lesson – that, if you want something, you have to work for it – even learned at such an early age, was key in his achieving so much in his life.  My dad served 23 years in the Air Force including a tour in Vietnam and has been a model husband and father for me.  He explains that he was never handed anything – he had to earn everything he got.  I very much appreciate his perspective.

I told my dad that this sounded more like what today’s select/travel team participants experience.  Select/travel leagues are different from recreational sports leagues.  Jacen CatchingIn the Hustle & Attitude philosophy there isn’t really a starter at any position as I encourage each child to play every position and to get equal playing time each game and throughout the season.  There were many seasons that my son Jacen was the best catcher on our team.  However, being left-handed, if he wanted to continue to play baseball, eventually he would need to be able to play other positions.  If we were playing each game to win, Jacen belonged behind the plate because of his skill and ability.  However, we were playing to learn the game, work together as a team, and have fun.  So, he played multiple positions.  Jacen now plays first base, outfield, and pitcher; more traditional positions for a lefty.

My dad also believes that giving every child the same trophy can lead to a sense of entitlement.  This is one of the points Vaughn Bryant, Chief Program Officer for the Chicago Park District, makes in his PCA Development Zone video.  Another point Bryant emphasizes is that participation trophies undermine the message inherent in sports that there are winners and losers in competition.  As I said in my previous post, the kids know who won and who lost each game.  They also know who the best skilled players are on their team and in the league.  Giving a trophy to each child doesn’t invalidate that knowledge.  Further, whether they get a trophy at the end of the season or not, winning always feels better than losing.  The kids I coach – who know that I expect them to hustle all the time and maintain the right attitude – will strive to be their best in order to try to win…whether they know that only the kids on the championship team get a trophy or if every child gets one.  Bryant gives an example of running a mile and that, only by working at it will the child get better or faster.  Agreed.  Where some might only give a trophy to the winner of the race, I think there is value in recognizing the kid that finished 12th, but set a personal best because of their hustle and attitude.

Sports Illustrated Likes My Football Letter!

8 Feb SI CoverEver been driven to write a strongly worded letter?  Well, two weeks ago I reacted that way when I read the Scorecard section in Sports Illustrated.  John Wertheim asked Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke “What do you see as the biggest issue facing the NFL?”  Kroenke responded “labor stability and our television contracts”.  I reacted to Kroenke’s answer by sending SI a letter (you actually send them an e-mail…ah, technology!).  And in this week’s issue (the cover is on the left), they printed my letter (see below).

My SI Comment

The study I cite is from aBloomberg Poll Graphic December 2014 Bloomberg poll (see results in the graph to the right).  As I have said before, I believe the NFL needs to focus on player safety.  NFL owners may rightly be concerned today with nearer term issues like renegotiating TV contracts and continued labor stability with the players; but if half of the potential player pool disappears, they will have longer term issues to tackle.


Football Head Injury Risk Enters Public Lexicon

Late last year, the movie Concussion dramatized the discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE [if you haven’t seen the movie yet; I recommend it].  The movie attempts to move the discussion from a football fan or football parent-driven one to a more general public discussion.  As a youth recreational sports advocate, this issue hits home as parents consider whether their children should play football.  Two recent magazine articles highlight the shift from a football-only audience to a wider audience:

  • In the February issue of Wired magazine (and last week’s Sports Illustrated) writer Steve Rushin imagines how the game has evolved 50 years from now with a recap of Super Bowl 100 (the NFL having abandoned Roman numerals with the unwieldy Super Bowl LXXXVIII).  In addition to other evolutions in the game (no kickoffs, female players, electronic first down and goal line markers), Rushin refers to the threat to football’s future CTE presents and how the NFL ‘dealt’ with it.  Futuristic innovations including new materials that make helmets mend themselves, EEG capabilities built into the helmets, and an antibody to treat CTE.
  • In the January/February edition of MIT Technology Review (yes, that MIT!), an article asks “Are Young Athletes Risking Brain Damage?”  Referring to a study comparing retired NFL players who started playing football before and after the age of 12 and noting the intense development that occurs in children’s brains between the ages of 8 and 12; the author recommends “youth leagues should switch to flag football and ban tackling for kids under 14”.

My Hustle & Attitude philosophy advocates for safety as a key ingredient to having positive experiences in youth recreational sports.  In previous posts, I have also advocated for flag football as an alternative to tackle football before high school.  And, in terms of long-term player safety, I believe this is the most important issue to the future of the NFL.  It’s not difficult for me to imagine Super Bowl 100 being very different from Rushin’s.  A game where there is no tackling at all – essentially a seven-on-seven skill game where the players have sensors in their gloves and uniforms and play two-hand touch.  Sound crazy?  If an entire generation of parents discourage or don’t allow their kids to play tackle football because of long-term safety concerns…

Super Bowl 100