Participation Awards Are Not to Blame.

Yes, we have some entitled humans in the U.S. of A., but I don’t think it is due to handing out participation awards.

Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison has pushed the topic back into the spotlight after being unhappy about his sons not earning the awards so he threw them out.  And a bunch of my fellow citizens agreed with his decision. And I understand the sentiment, as Charlie Sheen offered so many times in an altered mental state, America is all about, “Winning!”

Winning is big, I will grant that.  Who doesn’t love to win?  We all  love to get really good at something and win, be it checkers or Olympic ice dancing, we want the big prize or nothing.  I should know, most of friends who survived me as well as the people who hate me all know how competitive I was.  In some ways I still am, but I don’t think I can concur with a really good football  player in this circumstance.

Forget the fact that logic does not follow the thesis of the argument.  When James Harrison asserts that sometimes your best is not good enough, he is absolutely correct.  If humans are paying attention, we learn a lot from those moments.  It is the other side of the argument sans merit.  Receiving a trophy after a loss doesn’t fix the loss or make his kids think they are champions.

The reality is, we always know the score.  We’ve always known the score.  A blue ribbon regardless of result doesn’t change anything.

I got one of those evil participation trophies, and I turned out really cool.

It was in 1976, before society worried too much about kid psychology.  It was still the era when concussions were simply treated with, “give him a couple aspirin and keep an eye on him.”

If we slipped into a coma, it was time to call the doc, but otherwise, the era of rub some dirt on it was the rule of the day.  My team was from a small town in a league where the towns around us grew much faster.  We had 14 players, played both sides of the ball against teams with 40 kids that had their own units just for special teams.  And, we got thumped.  A lot.  One time we lost 72-0. No wins in two seasons, and we were told the non-league wins we had didn’t count.   One day, we lost to a league rival 14-13 but it may as well have been a blowout for how much the loss hurt.

At the end of each season, we had a banquet and players from the Denver Broncos would speak to us and tell us war stories and that we were all cool for playing football.  At the end of the second season, we got trophies.

The trophies were kind of big and shiny and they didn’t say ‘champions’ on it, just my name and the team name and the year.  I confess, I kept it in a prominent place on my shelf for many years.  Again, I knew the score.  All the bad scores.  The trophy represented my time with a team that overcame adversity every time we took the field, undersized, outnumbered and overwhelmed.  We never quit, not on any play.

I will always be proud to be a part of that team.  It would have been easier to walk away or toss that ‘meaningless’ trophy in the garbage.  But I worked hard, played my best and got my teeth kicked in every week with thirteen other guys who didn’t know how to quit either.

I watched my sons get some of those participation trophies, and also managed to overcome adversity in key moments.  My eldest played his sport 3oo days a year, high school team captain and went off to college with the dream to play at that level.  Missed the final cut.  One thousand miles from home, with the dreams crushed, he shifted his focus to his books.  He then earned honors with not one but two college majors and earned a fellowship in a doctorate program.

I’m thinking that entitlement argument is still a little weak.

My younger son maybe appeared like the participation awards would be enough for him, but not so much.  He started his senior season on junior varsity, but then, as his varsity coach explained at the awards banquet that my son played so well, he had no choice but to keep him on the field.

Kids are smart.  We have to start giving them credit for that.  Kids always know the score.

They know a good performance in the classroom or a bad one.  The recognize their effort out of the classroom as well.  We’re so caught up in whether or not we should be harder on youth, when all we need to do is ask them to hold to the expectations they set for themselves.

Guess what?  They’ll still fail sometimes or a whole bunch. Just like their parents.

Weakness and strength are not measured in the win-loss column.  They never have been.  Did James Harrison tear up his Pro-Bowl certificates in the years he didn’t win the SuperBowl?  Two Super Bowl wins is awesome in eleven years, but there are more years of not winning it all there on the resume.  Is that AFC Title ring in the trash?  Hopefully not, but if we hold to the winning standard, that thing should be in the garbage next to those trophies of his sons.

All or nothing, right?

What will happen in the years where football is in the rearview mirror? Is winning measured only in being CEO of the company or bust?

I hate to disagree with Vince Lombardi, a coach who inspired my existence, but winning is not everything. Winning is what happens when you get back up after your worst day. Your worst moments that become the lesson. And understanding that sometimes your best is not enough, but it will have to do. Until the next moment.

There is no magic answer for the people in our world who feel entitled.  Some of the blame rests on the foundation of our personal liberty, we’re told from the start to pursue our individual happiness.  Many folks literally take those words to heart.  “What’s in it for me?” could be the unofficial subtitle of the U.S. Constitution.

Participation trophies should not be the targets.  We always know the score. If we ask the kids if they are happy with a loss or if the participation award takes away the sting of defeat, most of their answers will surprise you.

Sometimes the emphasis on winning is everything can cost kids a learning experience. I coached a basketball team to a 27-4 record, we lost the final game in the final second. The tears of defeat obliterated an amazing season for a team that wasn’t expected to win much of anything.  Hopefully, they eventually looked back on the year and remembered the upsets of higher seeded teams, the 27 wins and will feel a bit better about their work on the court.  Today’s kids aren’t the soft touch their elders think they are.  Some are, some are not, as with every generation.

Winning is as American as apple pie at a summer barbecue.

Competition only gets us so far.  Tossing trophies away will not make kids into champions.  Some of that is luck of the draw, or the location of the city, or money spent on a program. Overcoming adversity at any age is the key to being a champion on or off the field.