It’s been a while since I’ve sat down and written a column so, for an experiment, I reached out to my Facebook friends and Twitter followers and asked if anyone had anything they would like to see written about. An idea that I could run with.
One of these ideas really stuck out to me. A certain person told me I should write about participation trophies and the way youth sports has become a place where you have to be politically correct. I loved the idea and went home and started racking my brain for a way to put my thoughts on the topic without all of Highland County starting a riot outside The Times-Gazette building.
The first thing I needed to do for this to work was to go through all of my trophies in my keepsake boxes in my closet. Sure enough, every single trophy, plaque, or medal I came across, I could name when, where, and what I received it for.
I had trophies from Knothole baseball when we won the district and got to go to the “city” tournament. I have trophies from select baseball in Cincinnati for winning tournaments in Tennessee and Georgia. I have plaques from high school baseball for certain accomplishments during the season.
Strangely, I could not find a single trophy for just showing up, and I didn’t need one. I have boxes full of trophies that I earned.
Today in youth sports, the score is not kept at some games, there are no outs, and no one loses. Kids get trophies for just showing up and sitting the bench. Kids that have no desire to be there whatsoever, but their parents were athletes so “our kid should be one too,” get the same trophy as the kid that worked his butt off all summer to get his swing right and led the team in batting average.
How is that fair?
It’s not. People who think they are doing right by giving everyone a trophy to make sure no one gets left out are actually, in a way, penalizing the kids that do well.
Like I said before, the kid who batted terribly last year and got a trophy knew he didn’t really deserve it. So, he spent the whole offseason working with his dad and making his swing better and came back and led the team in every hitting statistic they kept track of. He should get something for that, right? He does. He gets a foot-tall trophy with a kid swinging the bat atop it. And he feels good about his accomplishment, until he looks down the row of his teammates. Everybody got a trophy. Including Billy, the kid who always complained about being at the field, slacks off at practice and doesn’t even try to get better. Now this kid doesn’t even feel good about the trophy he earned.
And what about Billy?
We have basically told Billy, hey, you don’t even have to try and can lose every game because you made no attempt to get better and we’re still going to give you a nice shiny trophy.
In 20 years, when Billy is fighting for a promotion with two other employees and doesn’t get it, will he still get a reward? No. He didn’t do as well as his “teammate” and the “teammate” got the promotion instead of him. And this should motivate him to do better at his job and get the next one. So when you give Billy a trophy just like the kid that worked his butt off, what does that tell him?
Now, I’m not talking about instructional leagues where they are teaching the basics of the game. But once you get into the leagues where the kids have an idea of what they’re doing, the giving of trophies to everyone needs to stop. So, basically two years after being in the sport you should have to earn a trophy.
And enough of this “everyone hits” and “everyone gets to play the field” stuff. If a youngster isn’t good enough to make it into the lineup, they should work at it and get better. If they can’t field a ground ball and nine other kids can, then he or she should sit the bench. It’s that simple.
The same goes for other sports. If a youngster can’t dribble a basketball without bouncing it off his foot after two years in the sport, don’t expect him or her to be in the starting five. We should make the kids want to get better.
What if someday the kid wants to go out for the high school team and doesn’t make it because they’re not good enough? Well, they have to be good enough, right? They’ve been receiving trophies their whole lives.
Now that I’ve managed to get under the skin of a lot of people, let me close by saying this: stop handing out trophies to kids who don’t deserve it. In life, you win and you lose. Too many kids coming up in sports now don’t know what losing is. Teach them now so they have a grasp of how sports work when they start to get into the really competitive stuff.
Every child is special to every parent, and every parent wants their child to do well. But an out is an out and a loss is a loss. Let’s don’t keep instilling the idea that being bad or mediocre is good enough to be rewarded.
Robert Stegbauer is a sports reporter for the Times-Gazette and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @RStegbauer.