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My Dad Made Me Give Back My Trophy (Is That Really Better Than Everyone Winning?)

I recently got sucked into a conversation with a few parents at my kids’ school about parenting, sports, winning, and “earning” awards.

One dad told a story of his six or seven-year-old daughter getting a trophy at the end of her soccer season, like the rest of the teams. Before the night was over, he made her give the trophy back to her coach. He told her she didn’t earn the trophy, and her entire team didn’t earn the trophy. He told her that only the winner of the whole season should get a trophy, and that their team never won a game, so they shouldn’t be taking home a trophy.

Now, in this league, at this stage of the game, there is no keeping score. There is no winning or losing. There is no ranking, and there is no championship. There might be an internal keeping score that the parents and coaches are doing, but the main point of these games is to have fun and learn skills and team play.

I realize that maybe a trophy for everyone participating might be “too much,” but when that’s what the entire team is getting, why on earth would a parent single their child out and make them hand it back? That, to me, is cruel. Maybe that parent could have spoken his concerns to the coach before this became an issue. Maybe that parent could have skipped the event where the trophies were handed out. I think there were plenty of opportunities for this parent to get his point across to his child that would have been more productive and less hurtful.

In the same conversation, he said that team sports have taken the place of playing in the park or the neighborhood and that parents were putting their kids in sports for socialization and exercise rather than for SERIOUS sports competition.

Well, that may be true, and I’m fine with that. I didn’t put my daughter in soccer so she could be the next Mia Hamm and be competitive and be in the Olympics. I didn’t put her in soccer so she could learn to “dominate” the sport. I didn’t put her in soccer so she could focus on winning at all costs. I put her in soccer because she showed an enthusiastic interest in the sport. I put her in soccer because I thought it would be great fun for her, get some exercise, and learn a new skill. I love that her coach cheers her and her teammates on in a positive way and encourages all the girls to get in there and get the ball. I’m so thankful that our coach doesn’t scream at the girls and shout commands to them as if they were dogs, completely frustrated by their lack of experience. They are FIVE and SIX years old. This is their FIRST time playing. They should NOT be  out there for blood – if they were, I’d look for a new activity.

So, I asked him if he would make his daughter give back her award here at school. Everyone gets an award every year. The teacher randomly (or not) picks when to give out the awards and tries to personalize it to the child. Now, some teachers are much better at this than others. For example, my daughter got one last month that said she got one for “wildly wonderful writing!” Another teacher gave one for “adjusting well to the school after being a new student.” Some are really stretching. Some teachers find it very hard to think of something positive for some of the kids, but they still give EVERY child an award EVERY year. Is this different? (He said he wouldn’t make her give that back, by the way.)

So, look. Here’s my thought. Kids are kids. Soccer is a GAME. It’s not a super serious, life or death situation. Honestly? I think in this country (and maybe in all countries), sports have become TOO important. When a fan of “the other team” gets beat into a coma, it’s time for a reality check. When parents of CHILDREN are getting into fistfights over calls made by refs that are VOLUNTEERS, it’s time for a reality check. When kids are taught that their worth as people is measured by whether or not they are scoring goals/points/runs/touchdowns, it’s time for a reality check.

If getting a trophy for trying their best and learning something new is the worst thing that could happen, is that going to wreck your kid?

Is getting a certificate for being the fastest to get their hand up in the air every time, or having the most beautiful penmanship is the best thing they’ll ever get recognized for, is that better than not getting recognized for ANYTHING?

I think that when our kids get older there’s enough time to be competitive and cutthroat. Let’s let them be cooperative and celebrate their participation and the fact that they’re out there doing their very best, DESPITE not being the best player, DESPITE being the smallest one on the team or the slowest one on the team. Let them celebrate that they LOVE to be out there running on the field and kicking the ball and going for the goal. There will be enough time for the serious competition. Let the kids be kids.


7 responses »

  1. we’ve always gotten medals at the end of the soccer season (the kids). They love it and it is a reward for a well played season as they don’t keep score at this age etc. I don’t have a problem with that though I do think that society has gotten into the habit of rewarding everyone in fear of upsetting…. take for example the awards at your kids’ school (a great idea by the way) but likely done because if they were to single out the ‘top’ kids and not everyone there would be parents crying foul. At my daughter’s dance competitions each group etc. is awarded a medal placement based on their score and they get some sort of prize for it. It usually goes Bronze, Silver, High Silver, Gold, High Gold and some add platinum. I have never seen a bronze handed out. Very few silvers and high silvers too. Lots and lots of golds. I find it odd and funny…. of course if they gave a group a bronze (and oh some deserve it) the group’s feelings might be hurt (or something) but that’s because kids are conditioned to being over-rewarded in so many aspects of their lives. One of my daughter’s groups got a high silver at one comp. They have become used to getting high golds and/or platinums. Some of the girls cried. At the same time, we witnessed another group who got a high silver who were Ecstatic… they were so happy to get Something at all … It’s a different time though. At least here, kids are no longer ‘failed’…. if they don’t do well on an assignment they can re-do it etc. They get rewarded for everything. And often the kids doing the worst get the same reward as the kids doing the best…. So I’m on the fence i guess. I would NEVER make my child give back an award and would never allow her to be upset about her placement/award etc. (unless she is upset at herself for not working hard enough and even then I’d encourage her to try harder next time etc.) …. but it took me a while to understand the ‘system’…. I still think they should keep score at soccer because there is nothing wrong with a little winning or a little losing – it is good for character building but I don’t make the rules so I keep my mouth shut. And yet, I love seeing how proud my child is at the end of the season when they get their medal. It’s a medal that was earned from good hard play and fun.

  2. I totally agree with you, Gen. I don’t see how trophies in soccer are any different from the fun award certificates in school. There is nothing wrong with recognizing a kid, or of giving them a memento to make them feel special. My boys have trophies from instructional soccer and they totally just remind them that they participated in a fun activity. I think that father is way off-base.

  3. In general I’m not a fan of the “everybody wins” method lasting all the way through childhood, because I think wanting recognition for excelling inspires kids to work harder (which is not at all to say that teachers or coaches are wrong to find reasons to praise and reward every child for something they’re doing well). However, when you’re talking about young children still learning the game and you’re not even keeping score, a memento of your season is totally appropriate. That the dad was keeping score to the point that he knows how many games his daughter’s team “lost” shows that he is entirely missing the point of these early-years soccer leagues.

    By the way, if the coach in the background of one of your pictures up there is your coach, he’s our neighbor, and you’re right, he’s a great guy! 🙂

  4. Kitty – our coach is named Sam. He’s so much more encouraging and positive than so many of the other coaches I’ve seen. It’s really quite something.

  5. Personally, I believe that we give too many awards to kids so that they are meaningless at best and actually harmful to self esteem development at worst. I think giving awards to every child is unnecessary and the trophies shouldn’t have been given out in the first place. That’s enough of my soapbox about that.


    What the dad did didn’t help his daughter at all either, and was undoubtedly more harmful in the long run than getting an ‘undeserved’ trophy is. He could have easily just had a discussion about why he didn’t think the trophies were appropriate but let her make up her own mind. He turned an interaction with another adult into a moment of embarrassment for her rather than allowing her to engage naturally with the adults around her. He forced her to do something that goes against her will. All around nothing positive will come from what this dad did. And yet, I’m sure he’s super proud of himself.

  6. He is. And he also thinks it’s totally fine to tell a kid he sucks and to yell at kids on the field instead of cheering them on, putting them down.

  7. Speaking as a soccer mom of two boys who have been playing the sport since they were 3 years old I’ve seen how it evolves.

    Early on in the game, you have to foster their love of the sport, which means they have to have FUN. You know what is fun? Getting recognized for hard work. At this point laying the groundwork for the love of the game is huge because it will cause them to stick with it. And really that is what the trophies/medals are for, to recognize the kids to showing up, playing hard and having fun. It is a thank you to the kids for doing their best, win or lose, doesn’t matter. It also teaches good sportsmanship, that even if you lose, what is important is having fun, respecting the winner and the loser. Here it isn’t until 10 (unless you join a club team before that) that you stop getting trophies or something (medals, plaques, pins, certificates) each and every season.

    Now believe me my 8 year olds team is competitive. I mean they want to WIN each and every time they get on that field. But even still we haven’t put him in a league yet that “keeps track” of standings, because we don’t want to put that pressure on him just yet. Even though he keeps track there is still a difference.

    I’ve also talked with enough kids who are in high school when they are competing for trophies, that these trophies of early days get put in a box in the basement, so essentially they become meaningless once they get into competitive leagues. But for these young boys – each and every time my husband gives out the awards, he says something special about each kid, how hard they have worked, how much they have improved and the smile on their face as they get it is priceless. Right now at age 8, it still isn’t meaningless to be recognized for hard work.

    We have to teach our kids that it is okay to lose sometimes. That if you win you can’t be rude about it. That soccer is a TEAM and everyone contributes to the win or the loss. That doing your best is all that matters. That dad putting such focus on winning and losing is forgetting the entire spirit of youth organized soccer – to learn how to play the game and to learn how to love the game. At this age that is all that matters!

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