It’s become a badge of honor to say it.
“Every kid gets a trophy’ is ruining our children.”
It’s like when our grandparents told us they walked to school in the snow uphill both ways. Everyone wants to think that their life was harder when they were a kid. They were raised the right way but “these kids today.”
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 failure.
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This is a coach whose team played against another team whose players are of the same generation and in the same recruiting pool.
I’m a youth coach, father of four and have been a Division I head coach so I understand the challenges of mentoring youth more than most. It’s easier to blame society than to take responsibility. The fact is, 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.
Part of a coaches job (as well as parents, teachers and the rest of us) is to teach them how to deal with it.
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 repeated failures.
In football, I took the field despite my being the smallest kid on the team.
In cross country, I ran my hardest despite never finishing in the top half.
I didn’t get the championship trophy, the MVP trophy or the most improved trophy. 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—and rightfully so.
Warren Buffett, John Wooden and Michael Phelps have taught us to focus on the process, not the outcome. It’s the process that creates champions, leaders and productive members of society.
Do Kids Play for a Trophy?
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 was pulled 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 awards I won are now in a trash dump somewhere. They weren’t why I endured nearly two decades of pain and suffering in what many call the toughest sport.
Everyone Really Does Get a Trophy
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 just show up, you get a smaller one. If you do really well, you get a bigger one. If you don’t show up, you don’t get one at all.
Just like youth sports.
Even the coach in this video who lost and blamed someone else got a paycheck that week (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. 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.
Just like our great grandparents thought the youth of their day were ruined by radio or TV or the new societal norms, the adults of tomorrow will do the same. It’s what (too many) people do. Blame.
To those who blame others, stop passing the buck.
Stop blaming society.
Accept your responsibility in shaping our youth.