Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Soccer Trophies – Good or Evil?

I have no idea where this little rant came from. I just woke up today thinking about helping our children and especially our teens develop REAL self worth.

I’m a fan of youth sports. I think they’re good exercise, teach kids about teamwork, working hard, and sportsmanship. Love it.

What I am NOT a fan of, is the big trophy ceremony at the end. When did we stop telling our children that sometimes being average is OK? Now, as the trophies indicate – everyone has to be The Best. The pendulum went from “Children shall be seen and not heard” all the way to “Look at you! You’re the BEST at everything!"

(And somewhere along the line, the trophy itself lost a whole bunch of status - going from a symbol of being the very best, to basically a symbol of showing up.)

Do you think we do our kids any favors by telling them they’re good at everything? In the end, they know – THEY KNOW—that they are not good at everything. If you exclaim “Wonderful! Wonderful!” over everything the same way, that translates to “exceptional at nothing.”

I once attended a T-ball game where the 6 year old at bat swung so hard he spun himself in a circle and hit himself in the head. As his coach dusted him off and wiped away a few tears, his parents were screaming from the sidelines -“You did GREAT! Great swing! You’re amazing!”


I mean, not “You’re trying really hard!”, or something credible.

A) The kid KNOWS he is NOT AMAZING right now.


B) What kind of pressure is that for a 6 year old? From where I sat, that was not encouraging, that was just pressure.

What ever happened to REAL self esteem? You know the kind I mean. The kind you feel when you finally learn to do something that is difficult for you. Like the first time you tied your shoes by yourself. Or when you discovered something that you really did have talent for . Or when you memorized the pre-amble to the Constitution. Or even when your mom said, “Yes, after the fourth try, this bathroom really is clean.”

I just kinda think the world will be a better place when we actually help our children learn that there is a standard for clean, that some kids are better at sports, and working hard at something will make you better at it.

Let’s skip the shelves full of Everyone-Is-Great trophies and the empty praise, and help them find something they really are good at and enjoy doing. Praise them when they ARE good at something so it’s meaningful and believable. THAT is when our children will find their self-esteem.

And then they will tell THEMSELVES that they are amazing.


Heather said...

Yeah, I think there is a big difference between being positive and supportive and falsley inflating egos... but I think it's kinda blurry to a lot of people.

Heather said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melissa said...

It's like that line from "The Incredibles" where he talks about coming up with new ways to celebrate mediocrity...

"Vern" said...

You know what Dom & Jane say....

Tori :) said...

I totally agree. I remember when I played tball we could actually strike out or be thrown out. When my now 11 yr old played you couldn't strike out, there was no 3 outs- they batted the entire roster every inning. It was ridiculous. I got out in tball and I'm ok.

The Wiz said...

You have to read 'The Optimistic Child.' and/or 'Learned Optimism.'

They really talk a lot about this, and how the kid knows they're not fabulous, and what to say.

And who doesn't remember being told that? I sucked at dance, yet my mother constantly told me that I was awesome and as good as everybody else. It made me think she was either lying or delusional. It did not make me a better dancer.

linzipoo said...


Paul said...

I don't know. It depends on the age of the child, I think.

I've coached my son in everything he's played so far. I can tell you a lot of the kids he played with up until he was 7 or 8 played because of A) the trophies, and B) the uniforms. "Coaching" for kids that age is more accurately described as "managing chaos." The kids just didn't care all that much about the sport - they LOVED the concept of playing the sport. They sure as heck didn't care if we won or lost - after the first season of coaching, I learned not to care, either.

So, what's the point of rewarding them for something about which they couldn't possibly care less? I learned that the most important thing at that age WAS giving them a fun experience (thus, enticing them to keep playing), and really making them feel good about a solid effort.

Sorry, I could go on and on about this, but I will spare you that. I'm almost done - I promise.

What I think kids need to learn - at least up to a certain age - is that they should work hard at whatever they do. They will find individual talents in life - that process is pretty natural and automatic. What's important is that they know what to do with them when they find them. If they have been beaten down from the time they started trying new things - because they weren't as good as their peers - then you risk them just giving up on everything.

I think that, by ten, they're ready for more of an environment of natural selection. They're intuitive enough to know when they suck at something, so false flattery just hurts the credibility of the flatterer. Before that, I think a strong focus on competition does a lot more harm than good.

I hope that doesn't sound too preachy.

JustRandi said...

But Paul, when did "not giving them a trophy" become the equivalent of "beating them down"?

I guess now that everyone EXPECTS a trophy, you might have a point.

But don't you remember playing a sport as a child and being mediocre? I do. I admired the people on my team who were really actually good, but I knew I wasn't one of them. I was there mainly to be with my friends and to have some fun. What's wrong with that?

I still think that even little kids deserve to find something they really are good at. And the way they do that is by trying out a whole bunch of things and NOT being super-great at most of them. If we keep telling them they're good at everything, they never get to really find their talents.

Paul said...

Well, I think we're talking about a few different things.

I am against rewarding smaller kids for superiority in sports. From that perspective, I don't care what everyone gets at the end of the season, as long as it's the same for everyone. I just don't see any justification in giving a 7-year-old kid an award for being better than another 7-year-old kid.

That said, this would be my argument for giving trophies to everyone.

Little kids love fantasy. I've had so much fun with my little girl, having the recesses of my imagination - I don't know - maybe not polished, exactly - but definitely dusted. For kids, the world is their proverbial oyster. The really COULD be president (or quarterback of the Broncos). And they really SHOULD feel that way when they're little.

So - pertaining to sports - part of the allure of playing sports for kids is the fantasy of it. They are the player running out of the tunnel for the Super Bowl. They are what the crowd "oohs" and "ahs" about - hanging on every play. That's exactly why the uniform is so important for them - it's EXACTLY the same concept of the little girl who just WON'T take off her princess dress, no matter WHAT it smells like. And the trophy in kid's sports is the tiara to the little girl dressing up as the princess. They could live without it; but it's important to them. I can tell you that I still have every trophy I've ever won in sports. They're in a box, and I just can't get myself to ever throw them out - this, despite the fact that I own virtually nothing else that represents my life from the years I won said trophies.

You work so hard to give your small kids good experiences. They'll have plenty of time to understand how life tends to illuminates their weaknesses - just as they'll have plenty of time to learn that Santa doesn't really leave all those gifts under their Christmas tree. But up until they're secure enough to handle that, isn't it better to let them drink that reality in sips?

Yvonne said...

Great post--wish I knew the answer.

There's a fine line there. Is the trophy because you are the best--or is it a participation trophy???

Self-esteem is a tough one. We have so many young people who struggle with perfectionism. As a parent of one, I try all the time to remind mine how it's important to do your best--but it doesn't have to be perfect, and neither do you.

MoziEsmé said...

I agree with you! Focus on the positives without falsifying things. As a parent, though, I want to reward effort more so than achievement.

Amy Peterson said...

I think that self worth/esteem is really connected to hard work. THAT is what I see disappearing! Working hard to earn money to buy something you really want(not just having it handed to you) . Working to better yourself. Working to become GREAT at a sport/talent. I see that people, children, teens, young adults don't understand the value of old fashioned hard work!

Janell said...

At a middle school I attended I thought it was ridiculous that every single person was presented with a "citizenship" award or some such. Everyone got one. It took the specialness out of it.

You might appreciate this article on "Ovation Inflation." :)

Kimberly said...


A friend of mine sent me an article the other day that says we shouldn't tell our kids good job and all that, because then they'll (gasp) care what other people think of them. Said we need to teach them to find approval from themselves and not society.

Umm? Talk about the other extreme.

This is a messed up world we live in, alright.

kristen said...

I think we're raising a generation of kids who are expecting things to be spoon-fed to them, because that's what we're doing. We're too worried about their 'self-esteem' that we're not letting them fail. Failure forces us to try new things and actually find something we ARE good at. I like the quote from Batman that says "Why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up again." (Sorry, been watching a lot of that lately.)

The school where I work has gone so far as to cancel--yes, CANCEL--the award for student of the year. Apparently some parents thought it was unfair. What's wrong with recognizing a student for his excellence? Some schools have done away with valedictorians. Now there's a tragedy.

Promoting mediocrity just brings down the whole group. We need to recognize excellence, but true excellence. I think in the long run it does more harm overall to give the same awards to everyone all in the name of fairness and self-esteem.

I know that I suck at a lot of sports and activities....and I'm ok with that. But I also know there are things I can do well that others cannot. That's what makes us human and unique.

(Sorry, got carried away. I obviously liked your post and agree with you.)

I am Boymom said...

Helloooo!! Finally! Someone agrees with me!! Kids need to understand that you have to EARN the trophy! They need to understand that you aren't always going to win and they need to learn how to handle those situations when they are young so that they are not sent out into the world as adults wondering why they aren't getting praise for getting out of bed in the morning! I suck at sports, I know I suck at sports. You know how I know? I never won a trophy for sports. I did however win awards for other things that I was good at, that I EARNED. And I developed my self-worth based on the fact that I know who I am, whether I can play sports or not. So, yeah...I'm with ya sister!

TheDillon6 said...

my husband and I talk about this every season when we are bullied into forking over an additional $6.50 to $13.00 (THAT one was a doozey) for the "optional" I'm going to be the awful parent who chooses NOT to hand out a trophy when all the other kids DO get them. Wait -- is that peer pressure?

Our oldest is 10, and this Spring Soccer season we did away with snacks after the games -- and made a parental pact that it would be the last time we bought the girls trophies. Unless they actually WIN a trophy.

And I realize that I am tired and just babbling I will end with: I agree with Randi!!

Ben & Kimberly McEvoy said...

I so agree. why do we waste so much time and effort applauding mediocrity. why are their graduation ceremonies for elementary school???

Rhonda said...

I am with you on this and a little bit with Paul on that...

The graduations from Pre-school, Kindergarten, 5th grade, (out in CT)8th grade, and then of course HS, is enough to make any parent weep silently in a closet. Imagine my horror coming from Boulder when there was none of this and then to come out here and have a child from several of the grades "graduate" all in one Spring. I was going crazy.

There is far too much coddling in many areas of our children's lives.
That much is evident in the "I'm entitled" population of young adults.

I know that trying to keep Elijah grounded has been a fine balancing act. Certainly our son knows that all of his self esteem will not come from baseball or sports alone. It is a combination of a lot of things... his love for others, his education, this relationship with God and of course.... BASEBALL!

There were a lot of "Show Boats" on our team this year and not all of them were happy with the 2nd place regional placement that these kids earned. They were told over and over again how great they were. However, it was not accompanied with any further skill. They felt defeated and sunk in their own world of pity for a few days. how sad. Our Elijah was thrilled.

There is no trophy for this particular segment and I do not think Elijah cares. However, it is a reminder as he grow up what he accomplished in that one little window of time... be it sports or any other arena he plays in.

Our trophies actually end up in the garbage as they are pretty cheap. I take the brass plates off and they are in his special box of keep-sakes.

Wow. This is a VERY long comment. Sorry.

Rhonda said...

...oops....I meant to say "his" relationship with God... NOT "this" relationship with God.

Nancy Face said...

My family ran in the two mile "Turkey Trot" fun run on Thanksgiving. Every person who crossed the finish line received a blue ribbon. It was ridiculous and meant nothing whatsoever, but we laugh every time we see the picture of ourselves, proudly displaying our blue ribbons to show the world that we are all winners! HAHAHA! :D

JustRandi said...

Santa doesn't really leave those gifts under the tree?

Macy said...

It's really a fine line, and I think it depends on the kid. I am a middle school choir teacher and worked very hard to be encouraging - great job, that sounded wonderful - and so on. I'll never forget one day when we were learning a song in the advanced Chamber Choir and one of the students - frustrated by the difficulty of the piece - yelled out, "That did NOT sound great! Stop saying that."

He was right. They sounded ragged.

But, it was much better than when we started working on the piece. I decided then I needed to give them comments that were true. "You're trying hard." "That was better than the first time." I have a hard time remembering to phrase my comments this way, but I think it will help in the long run.

Santa Claus said...

Paul, I can't believe you're spreading rumors like that about me.

Welcome to Coalville.

Lisa R.D. said...

I loved this post and all of the comments--I was so bothered each day that my 6 year old came home from school with a treat that she got for turning in her homework. Really?!? What happened to understanding that the reward for doing homework is LEARNING, not getting the 67th pack of Smarties in one week?

Elizabeth-W said...

I agree with The Wiz--Martin Seligman's stuff on learned helplessness and then learned optimism is fantastic.
The other thing I'd think about is the concept of self-efficacy:
I actually talk to my patients about increasing their efficacy more than their self-esteem.
As for how I parent, I try to be realistic. Meaning, I tell my girls that there are things that I'm naturally good at, and things that are harder for me, we all have strengths and weaknesses, etc.
I think as parents we have to say we think something is over the top--otherwise we end up spending money on goofy trophies.
Fun post, Randi!

TRS said...

I agree with you totally.
I don't have kids yet? but I'm very concerned about this.
I mean... what if when I'm in the nursing home - the kid running my oxygen tank is the one who was told he's AMAZING for blowing tanks up in RN school?

Ribbons for participating? Trophies for showing up? It's sick and it certainly does more harm than good!

Of course, I'm the proud auntie of my 18 year niece who just won her second GIANT belt buckle for earning GRAND CHAMPION in Reining at the SD State 4-H Rodeo. two years in a row She and her horse ran the pattern so well - that after the award ceremony the judge had her run the reining pattern again while the judge explained everything she did right.
Not to boost her ego - but for the other kids to learn what the judge is looking for.
THAT creates self esteem!

I was in 4-H rodeo when I was a teenager two. I have one small belt buckle, and one trophy... but hoards of Purple and blue ribbons that told me I was good but not great. And I'm proud of all of them.
Just as I'm proud that I never earned a lowly white ribbon.

But I never got a purple for being average either.

You know what else? My niece started crying at the end of the reining pattern because she KNEW that she and her horse ran a perfect pattern! She was filled with pride... and if the next contestant had run better than hers... she still knew that she did the best she had ever done! Sure she might be slightly disappointed at the Reserve Champion buckle - but it wouldn't kill her.

heather said...

wow, this struck up quite the conversation. Only the best blogs do.
I agree with you. Life is just hard. Our kids need not think everything is always just great, even about the way they do things. Or they're in for a terrible let-down later in life, eh?
I too often find myself giving out empty praise. You're right, our kids know the difference when they've actually done something great and when we're faking it.
When someone shells out fake praise, our kids are smart enough to know it isn't authentic. And who wants a fake trophy?

No Cool Story said...

I'm late for the fun discussion.

I always measure things from my growing up in Mehikoh experience. No one gave you a trophy unless you won, so toughen up Nancies!

TRS said...

Heather reminded me too... that back in my youth - 4-H rodeo days one of my friends set her trophy in the back of her families Pickup truck among the saddles and other tack - while she prepped for the next event.
One of the mom's warned her to lock it in the cab lest someone steal her trophy.

The rest of sat there on our horses, mouths agape - wondering aloud why anyone would steal a trophy!!! If you didn't earn it - it isn't worth anything!

except a little block of marble and a plastic horse on top! and who would buy that? Not even a pawn shop!

Jill said...

One of my children had a school teacher who constantly complained to us that he wasn't doing any work in school. She was very frustrated because he just sat there and wouldn't do anything. She once told us "I even sat with him and TOLD him the answers, and he still wouldn't write them down."
When we got his report card, he had nearly straight "A"s.
My son didn't do any schoolwork because he didn't need to do it. The teacher rewarded him with good grades and other privleges in class even though he hadn't earned them.
This teacher also gave EVERY child in her class a special school award. This award had a long list of requirements that were supposed to be completed at home. I know for a fact that my son didn't earn this award, yet it was given to him.

In that school year, the main thing that he learned was that he didn't need to work to be rewarded.

The following year, he had a teacher who believed in natural consequences. If you are late for school, you miss recess. If you don't turn in your work, you don't get to participate in the fun class activity.
Guess who started doing his schoolwork?
(We LOVE that teacher!!)

You can't "give" a child self esteem, they need to earn it.

If the kid gets a trophy just for showing up, what incentive is there for them to work to become better?

What happens to these kids when they get a job in the "real world" Their boss won't care whether or not they "feel good about themselves" they will expect them to do the work they are being paid to do.

When everyone is special, then no one will be.

Great post Randi!