The recent tirade by the Louisville head women’s basketball coach about “every kid gets a trophy” is the latest public lashing of society. It’s an unfortunate irony. The very coach whose job is to teach young athletes accountability is blaming someone else for his own failure as a coach.
This is a coach who played a team made of players of the same generation and in the same recruiting pool yet he blames society instead of himself.
I’m a father of four and have been a Division I head coach so I fully understand the challenges of mentoring youth. It’s easier to blame society than to take responsibility. The fact is that it’s developmentally appropriate for young people to struggle with failure, adversity, obstacles and setback.
To be honest, you and I struggle with it too.
It’s part of a coaches job (as well as parents, teachers and the rest of us) to teach them how to deal with it.
It’s become a badge of honor to complain about kids getting participation trophies.
It’s like when our grandparents told us they walked to school in the snow uphill both ways. Everyone wants to think that life was tougher when they were a kid.
I grew up in a tough, blue collar community outside of Pittsburgh in the ‘80s. We hunted, watched the Pittsburgh Steelers and generally did tough things.
And everybody got a trophy.
I was terrible at baseball. I got a trophy.
I was terrible at football. I got a trophy.
I was terrible at cross country. I got a trophy.
In baseball, I stepped to the plate regardless my inability to hit the ball.
In football, despite my being the smallest kid on the team, I stepped onto the field.
In cross country, I was one of the slowest runners but was exhausted at the end of each race.
Mind you, had to show up and give effort to receive it.
I didn’t get the championship trophy or the MVP trophy or the most improved trophy (those came later). But I did get a participation trophy.
There’s a difference.
You get a participation trophy for stepping outside of your comfort zone.
You get a participation trophy for trying something new.
You get a participation trophy for taking a risk.
It’s the process that is rewarded. I ran a 1/2 marathon last year and got a participation medal for the same reason.
Warren Buffett, John Wooden and Michael Phelps teach us to focus on the process, not the outcome. It’s the process that creates champions, leaders and productive members of society.
Even Carol Dweck, the often quoted psychologist and author of the bestselling book “Mindset,” believes that kids should be rewarded for improvement or team spirit.
Those who blame “every kid gets a trophy,” have flawed reasoning that a participation trophy is the reason kids play sports. It’s not. Research tells us as that kids participate in sports because their friends do it, because they want to be part of something and because they feel they’re good at it.
Not because they want a participation trophy.
When I was young and gravitated toward the sport of wrestling, it was because my friends were doing it.
I was terrible at first.
I got a participation trophy.
Seventeen years later I was crowned one of the best in America.
I got a bigger trophy.
Most of the hundreds of trophies I won are now in a trash dump somewhere. They are not the reason I endured nearly two decades of pain and suffering.
If you question the fact that it’s wrong to give a participation award, remember that everyone gets a participation award in the real world too. It’s called a paycheck. If you don’t show up, you don’t get one at all. If you just show up, you get a smaller one. If you do really well, you get a bigger one.
Just like youth sports.
Even the coach in this video who lost and blamed someone else got a paycheck (probably bigger than yours or mine).
Listen, I know that as coaches and teachers and parents and employers, we want to be handed a generation of youth who are fully prepared. However, it is our job is to prepare them for the next step. If they’re not the athletes or students or employee that you wanted, coach them up or go recruit different ones.
Stop passing the buck.
Stop blaming society.
Accept your responsibility in shaping our youth.