Glinting like the chestful of booty that pirates are always after (well, the pre-Somali pirates, anyway — the ones who said “argh” with the parrot and the eye patch and the rum with three X’s on the side of the jug, the ones who wore cute boots and didn’t capture Tom Hanks and had scurvy and… Uh, where were we? Oh, yes!)
Glinting with heaps of gold is the average 8-year-old’s bookshelf. On it? Trophies as far as the eye can see.
Breathing trophies, they’re called — the trophies you get just for showing up at the sport and breathing. My boys have their share, busy gathering dust because they represent nothing more than an inflated activities fee. Clearly, some percentage of the cost of all the programs of their youth — soccer, football, baseball, even chess — was allocated for trophies, comma, meaningless.
But now one brave kids sports program down in Texas has done the unthinkable. The Keller Youth Association football league just announced it will give out no more “participation trophies.” Kids will get a trophy only if they actually, you know, triumph. Vanquish. Dare I say it?
Talk about radical. On the league’s Facebook page, the Keller folks wrote, “We have been asked a gazillion times if we are giving participation trophies this year and the answer is no.”
What’s that? Treating kids as if they don’t all deserve the Wimbledon Cup? This naturally incurred some wrath. One local parent interviewed on TV said of the peewee participants, “They need to be rewarded … at this young age. We want to keep them coming back.”
Ah, but that is precisely the problem. If the adults want to keep “them” coming back, doesn’t that imply the program itself is lacking the kind of fun that usually pulls kids in? If that isn’t kicking in for the kids, maybe they shouldn’t be coming back. Let them play outside on the lawn with their friends! It’s cheaper, and it’s actually more active. One 2011 study found that kids get far more exercise when engaged in “free play” than they do when participating in organized sports, something I find easy to believe when I think back to my younger son in his Little League days.
He played the outfield sitting down. Why not? The ball was never going to reach him anyway. It was like baseball Kabuki. Imagine if I’d been smart enough back then to yank him out and give him those weekend hours to just run around with his friends. (Of course, all of them were in the league, too. Which is part of the problem.)
Play — real play, not sitting in the outfield — is a huge motivator, right up there with hunger. If kids are playing only to get the trophy, something’s wrong.
But even worse is the way trophy culture has corroded our culture’s view of today’s kids. The assumption is that they’re so fragile that they cannot withstand the shock of learning that maybe, just maybe, they aren’t the very best at everything they do.
The people at the Keller Youth Association understand that kids are more resilient than that. For that, they deserve a…
Well, let’s just say they deserve a high-five. That should be enough.