What is the essence of a winner? Someone who tries their best and gives it their all? No. It’s someone who wins first place. Someone who tops the rest. Someone who elevates their skills and their team to the highest level of victory. Not a person who showed up and gave it their all.
Giving your all doesn’t always correlate to success.
Currently, our society is teaching the youth that participation goes hand in hand with a trophy, that even though your team went 0-12 in your AYSO soccer league, you are still a winner because you tried your best. Yet we all know that isn’t true.
The world is not a kind or gentle place, so to teach young children that they’re going to be a winner no matter what is cruel, unfair, and results in built up expectations.
High up on a shelf in my closet rests a box of useless trophies and medals from my youth, all collecting dust. Years of AYSO and VYBA and little league baseball have taught me that your team can be absolutely god-awful, but at the end of the season, every player will get together with his or her team, eat pizza, and receive a trophy for showing up.
What is this teaching the youth? That if you try your best or do your part, you’ll always be a winner?
As we grow up, we begin to see changes in society, realizing that nothing is guaranteed. As a parent, I could see why you would want your children to feel like they’ve accomplished something to build up their self-esteem. I understand that we shouldn’t teach our youth that complete failure is normal. But how many kids are really going to get into every college and land every job they apply to?
To raise a society that embraces “trophy culture” creates human beings who can’t handle rejection and people who believe they are entitled to anything they try their best at. Older millennial parents may believe that their fragile children deserve the best and are winners no matter what, but their children are going to be in for a rude awakening when they grow up and realize how much it sucks to lose, especially when it isn’t accompanied by a “nice-try” trophy.
Now, I don’t hate trophies or winning or success. As an athlete, I can truly say there is no better feeling then the camaraderie you experience when you and your teammates take home first place. However, I don’t believe that our boys basketball team deserved awards last year when we went 2-12 and placed second to last in our league. We failed and that’s just life.
Last year, Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison explained how he was returning the trophies that his two sons received, because they hadn’t “earned a REAL trophy.” He believes just showing up did not equate to a piece of gold plastic, and many parents took offense to his harsh style.
There will be those who argue that trophies teach kids commitment to their sport and their teammates, but if you like a sport enough to play it, you shouldn’t be showing up just to be recognized at the end of the season for your participation. You should want to participate and your reward should be that you are able to take part in a game that you love.
I’m sick and tired of our culture rewarding mere effort. I’m not discounting that effort, passion and perseverance aren’t important lessons to be taught to the youth, but kids shouldn’t believe they can do everything. It’s not realistic.
True victory is when you can say, “I’m the best and there is no one better.” Not when a pizza-stuffed 8-year-old is proud of himself because he was at every practice. When that kid grows up and gets a job, he isn’t going to be honored by his boss at the company Christmas party for working when he was supposed to. He will be recognized for the highest sales. For being the best.
If we continue to raise our children in a way that promotes anti-realism and ridiculous optimism, the future of our country will be dim, with people who find themselves dejected and ashamed at the slightest failure.
So next time you feel like supporting the youth and their trek for meaningless trophies, reconsider what lesson they are really learning, because chances are, it’s not for the best.