I am going to go on record and say that after the age of say, 6, I do not, repeat I DO NOT believe in the notion that every kid should get a trophy. While 90% of success in life is indeed showing up, I don't think you deserve a medal just for doing so.
I was on a run (translation: a slow, labored jog) this morning with my sister Chrissy and she proudly shared some great news about her 9 year old son (and my nephew) James. James had done an excellent job at playing catcher for his entire baseball game last night, showed exceptional sportsmanship in trying his best and cheering on his teammates and gotten a single, 2 doubles and a triple, leading his team to victory. The coach of his little league team, a 23 year old volunteer, insisted that James get to keep the ball from the game.
"Wait!" James's father Jim (my bro-in-law) objected.
"What?" asked the coach.
"Um...James got the ball at the last game." Jim stated. "Another child should be given the ball." he suggested.
The coach looked at him.
"I gave him the game ball at the last game because he pitched an amazing game," the coach explained.
"You really don't need to. Please give it to another kid," Jim repeated in an attempt to be fair.
"No," the coach responded reasonably. "James earned that ball."
While I was happy to see that my brother-in-law hasn't become one of those sports-crazed competitive dads with which Monmouth County is rotten, I also felt gratified that hard work and extraordinary effort gets rewarded. Yes, James got the ball for two games in a row, but it was based on his performance. Isn't that what we want to teach our kids? That being amazing equals reward, even if, in this case, the reward was just a game ball? And that "just" a game ball means a lot to a child...I know because I remember mine.
Let me take you back to the year 1989.
My little league softball team, The Hollies, were down by 2 runs, it was the bottom of the last inning, the bases were loaded and I was up. Whoever won this game would win the entire MYAA championship. In a moment of sheer joy that I will never forget, I got over my nerves and hit a triple, driving in 3 runs and winning us the game. It was a beautiful moment, especially since playing sports has never really been my strong suit, and it was made all the sweeter by the fact that the Coach handed me the game ball. It was the only game ball I have ever gotten in my life. I still have it, to this day, and when I come across it every so often it brings me back to a moment of which I am proud. I wonder what my feelings would be if I received a game ball after every single game...if the entire team did...regardless of how we played. I doubt I would have kept any of them, as they would have been far from special.
I think participation certificates are awesome. But every child cannot be a winner at everything. I like when being outstanding is acknowledged and rewarded. What's next, there will be no "lead" roles in the school play and 10 different girls will all play Annie, at the same time? I'm not sure this kind of thinking is inspiring our children to anything other than mediocrity. They learn that they don't need to try too hard and they will still be rewarded. I'm not certain that this is good preparation for adulthood nor does it foster the desire for greatness.
When our friend Griffin won the school's spelling bee, I was delighted to see his name on the big board outside the school as "Bee Champ" It was nice to see they didn't squeeze on the names of the rest of his Fourth Grade class with the proclamation "Nice Try!" I like when hard work is celebrated. We try to instill that in our children because it's for their own good. A kid is not entitled to someone gazing at their scribbles and insisting "You're Picasso!" I mean, that's what grandparents are for. You're not entitled to an "A" in math if you haven't yet learned to subtract. And wouldn't a trophy mean a lot more to a kid if they know they've earned it?
I know I'm in the minority here. I also know that my 5 year old came home and burst into tears because he didn't win something he called "The Christopher Columbus Coloring Contest" a few months back. Apparently, this was a loose competition where the kid with the best colored Columbus won a sticker. I didn't call his teacher to object, nor did I say "That's NOT fair! Everyone should have won a sticker!" His tears led to a nice discussion about how you can't win everything but if you try your best, then you can rest easy knowing you have done all you can to achieve. He wiped his eyes and admitted "But I didn't try my best. I colored super fast so I could go play." And a few things seemed to dawn on his young psyche. He seemed to have made the connection between effort and reward. How proud he was last month when he was 1 of only 5 students in his class of 20 who got an award for reading the most books online. He had been diligently reading a few books each night for weeks and he was so happy to see his hard work paying off. We hung the certificate with pride, knowing that a) it meant something and that b) it was his very first award for merit. I am convinced if every child had received one, whether they read 100 books or zero the reward would not have meant nearly as much. And I wondered what message that would have sent. And I wonder, as parents, educators and coaches if we really want to be sending that message.