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.