Growing up, I was surrounded by athletes. My father was a good athlete, and most of my friends were good athletes. I tried various sports throughout my youth, but it just didn't click with me. Needless to say, I didn't win a lot of trophies. Through all of it, I had a father that stressed the fact I wasn't going to miss a practice or a game. That same philosophy was the same with school and work.
If I was involved with something, my father made it clear I was going to see it through. The key is, I had to be involved in something -- even if it wasn't sports. As I got older, it was clear to me that I wasn't going to excel in athletics, and it certainly wasn't from lack of effort.
Would a trophy have made a difference in my life?
No, not if it didn't mean anything. So what does it mean to get a participation trophy? Is that meaningless? To a lot of people, that answer is yes, especially if they are earning MVP's and other awards. To the kid that shows up, the kid that busts their hump everyday, the kid that gets knocked down over and over but refuses to quit no matter how bad things get -- that trophy means everything. The participation trophy is a way of positively affirming that these kids are doing something right in a world where people may often criticize them. The participation trophy may be a beacon of light for all the awful days a kid may have had at practices, and all the times other kids may have mocked them. That participation trophy rewards kids showing up and plugging away.
In many cases, a participation trophy may help transform these kids into the athletes they aspire to be. In other cases, it does something much more. It teaches kids the importance of commitment, whatever that commitment may be. It teaches you the importance of showing up.
People think athletes are just about sports and ability. No way. An "athlete" in my opinion is somebody that stands out, no matter what it is they choose to do. I always tell kids the same thing -- it does not matter whether you are good at certain things or not. Whatever it is you want to do with your lives, work hard, show up and be the best at what you do. A lot of times in life, showing up is 99 percent of anything. Whether or not you grow to be good at sports, eventually you are going to have to learn how to do something. Whatever it is you want to do in life, be better at it than anybody else. However, none of that will happen unless you learn how to be there, take direction, and work with others. These principles apply to other things in life too, such as marriage, parenting and keeping promises to others.
Don't get me wrong, there is more to participation than just showing up. There is a big difference between being a load of bricks that makes no effort to contribute anything, and someone that is trying hard and helping the people around them to become better, and improving themselves mentally and physically in the process.
Where is the harm in rewarding a kid for doing something that will pay dividends later in life? Where is the harm in teaching kids that being present and giving effort will make them better people? Where is the harm in making a kid feel good, and giving them confidence in themselves ahead of becoming adults?
I may not always be the smartest or most talented, but nine out of 10 times, if I'm passionate about something, I will outwork and outlast you. Learning to be on time and work hard will take you far in life. I learned those important lessons that carried me through adulthood because of what I learned as a child. I learned these lessons because my father, and the coaches that could see past wins and losses. I learned these lessons because I learned at a very young age the importance of showing up.
I've seen many athletes in my life peak in high school. I see young kids rewarded solely on their talents rather than work ethic, which is not how the real world works. The economics of adulthood work like this -- you won't get paid unless you're there.
For those that make a stink about rewarding a kid for showing up to practice, time to lighten up. We are busy building responsible adults.