Some would call it the wussification of our kids, handing out trophies to one and all for participating in soccer, hockey, or whatever your kid is competitive in.
There was a time when I thought it was ridiculous too, especially when the argument is filled with emotional rhetoric. Coddling doesn’t happen in the real world. There are no participation ribbons after job interviews. There are winners, there are losers, and life doesn’t care.
But then I stepped back from the situation and went digging in my storage boxes in the basement. Yes, I still have the medals, patches, and trophies I got when I played minor hockey some 30+ years ago.
In that pile of memorabilia there are MVP medals, there are year end trophies, and there are participation patches.
Each year you played in the association you got a bar you could sew onto your team jacket. At the end of the year, win or lose, we each got trophies to celebrate a successful season and friendships made. When I played at out of city tournaments, there were bigger trophies handed out to the winners, and each game an MVP was chosen, I have a few of those.
Did they mean anything? Well, 30+ years later I still have them, and I’ll admit, I still like to humblebrag to people in Calgary that my teams in 1981 and 1982 won back to back championships at the Lake Bonavista Hockey Tournament.
I won awards, I got tokens to celebrate my participation, and I turned out just fine. None of those awards diminished my competitive spirit, but that year end trophy still made me feel good about myself and my teammates.
This topic was recently brought up in a Dad Blogger group I belong to. It had me re-thinking my position on participation trophies, and recollecting all the awards I had won during the nearly 10 years I played minor hockey. John, of Ask Your Dad, dropped a nugget into the discussion thread that just absolutely ended the debate:
if our kids are vulnerable enough for a participation award to ruin them, we messed up long before they were handed a little plastic trophy.
Who cares if the kids get a trophy!? Did they try hard? Did they make friends? Did they get some exercise? Did they improve? Did they learn some valuable life lessons about adversity, teamwork, co operation, and determination?
If you’re still uptight about the trophy thing, think about what happens at 5k, 10k, half marathons, and marathons around the country every single weekend. There are people who get a special commendation for wining the race, or coming tops in their age group, but everyone else?
Everyone who finishes gets a participation medal.
My sons have started running 5k races with me, about once a month we’ll do one, and they always ask if there will be a medal at the end. It’s not a medal for winning, it’s a medal for participating. It’s a medal for saying “see that thing, you did it, and you’re awesome.”
We’re not wussifying our kids by handing them medals, we’re giving them something to say “you did it!” Something they can hold onto, keep on a hook in their bedroom so that the next time they’re up against a wall, it will shine at them as a beacon that says “you did it before, you can do it again!”
Participation awards don’t diminish the joy of winning, they don’t erase the pain of losing, but they do inspire us to get out there and do it again.
And then there are the ‘participation medals’ my Grandfather got. He was a member of the Merchant Marines during WWII. He didn’t do anything remarkable in the war, but he got a few medals for being in the forces, and for serving at sea. If you want to call them anything, you could call them participation medals because everyone who served in those capacities got them.
He stepped up and participated, and was given a few tokens of appreciation.
You can sit on the sidelines, or you can participate.