I used to play a lot of sports when I was younger. Peewee soccer until fourth grade. Volleyball from fourth through eighth grade. Tee-ball all the way up to “big girl” fast pitch softball. Heck, I was even a cheerleader for eight years, receiving two varsity letters for cheerleading (and yes, I agree that’s sideline; high school cheerleading is not a sport but that’s for another column).
I wasn’t the strongest player on the team. It took me a while to develop an overhand serve in volleyball, and I couldn’t hit the ball in softball because I needed glasses. But I was always one of the most hard-working members of my team, always willing to step up and do whatever was needed.
I have a small array of trophies from those years, just like my brother and my friends. Just like most children in America today. But there’s a difference between my time back then and their time now.
I actually earned those trophies. Back then, trophies were only given to the members on the teams that actually won league championships. Maybe the occasional MVP trophy was also handed out, but nothing more. There was no such thing as a participation trophy.
Pardon me while I go on a rant for a little bit.
Children today are coddled. They grow up with the notion that every single thing that they do needs to be rewarded. Their “accomplishments” do not necessarily have to have some sort of worth; they do not necessarily have to be major achievements.
Unfortunately, this soft spot translates to the field and the court but, most especially, the bench.
A few years ago, coaches would make cuts from the team based on who was the most talented and who was not. Maybe if you were lucky, some of the lesser talented players would still get the chance to play but on a “B” team.
Now, no cuts are made because coaches fear the wrath of entitled parents, who insist that their kid be on a team, no matter what, or they will sue. Leagues are formed with mandatory participation rules that every single player on the roster will see time on the court or on the field before the more talented players can single-handedly rule the game.
I also used to be a scorekeeper for grade-school level basketball. I remember one particular game during a tournament when a coach screamed at me for messing up in keeping track of participation, disallowing her from making free substitutions. In actuality, I was the one who was correct, but that game still stands out in my mind.
This is one of the many reasons that I love college athletics. Spots on a roster are earned with years of hard work, not freely given. There are no mandatory participation rules; however, starters work really hard to make sure that their teammates on the bench get a chance to get into the game. Even the bench players have extraordinary athletic talent.
High school sports even operate in this manner, but to a lesser degree. If a talented freshman enters a program, he or she is not resigned to a freshman team but will play up to the varsity level. Varsity letters are awarded partially based on how much time on the court a player has seen.
I think this model should be adapted and used in grade school athletics, during those formative years in a child’s life when values such as hard work and dedication should be encouraged on the court and applied off the court.
So enough with the participation trophies. Let’s get back to the model that helped to make American sports great.