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.

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2 thoughts on “More on Participation Trophies (my Dad & the PCA)

  1. Chad
    So much that I agree with however just as much that I don’t. When it comes to team sports the best need to be on the field, when the situation arrives put the other less talented players in. This is demonstrated not only at the collage level but in the pros also. For a superior player to set on the bench only to see his team lose, knowing he had the means to turn things around does not help that individual grow stronger. Yes, teach everyone to do their best but if their best is not good enough, join the band. The same goes for the band member who can’t hit a note, he belongs else where. A pat on the back and words of encouragement for the kid who comes in 12th but beats his best time, but not a trophy, the kid who came in 11th will want one also and that is not what we need to teach. This will only lead to, I have more time in grade then he does, how come he got promoted and not me? We need to be teaching that the best get rewarded more then the one who tries his best. A good example would be you sitting down to hear me play the piano, while I’ll be doing my best. Believe me you will get up and leave or laugh your head off.

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  2. I don’t disagree that the best players should play in high school and college sports. That’s kind of my point…the best players will be identified and rewarded soon enough. If a kid who has played recreational sports their whole life tries out for a high school sport, they should realize they are likely a long shot to make the team. High school sports make cuts and the child will be trying out against players who have been competing on travel / select teams. So, knowing that the child will be introduced to the hard knocks of real life in their teens; why not let them just play and have fun until then, In fact, I’m also an advocate for some alternative to comptetive interscholastic sports as well. Often, when the children reach high school, their recreational sports options disappear.

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