EVERYONE GETS A FREAKING TROPHY.
Kid sitting on the sidelines with his finger up his nose? Gets a trophy. Kid makes a goal for the wrong team? Gets a trophy. Kid doesn’t even show up but his or her parent remembers to bring snacks? GETS A TROPHY.
It’s ridiculous. You know what our participation trophy was when I was a kid? Actually participating. Win or lose. Because it was embarrassing to be the kid who whined, pissed, and moaned because, “It’s ho-ot. Can I have a juice? When is the game over? Can I go pick that flower two fields over?” If we didn’t win, we got a pep talk and a Gatorade. We didn’t get a trophy because we, probably literally, ate dirt. I was even the kid who scored a goal for the other team once. Okay, twice. And do you know what I earned for that? Suicides and a week of bitter looks from my teammates who were also doing suicides. And did we whine about not getting trophies or ribbons? Were our psyches damaged beyond repair? Did we become rooftop killers? NO. We dealt with it and we did better the next game. Want to know why? Because there is no encouragement quite like double time drills in the hot Louisiana summer.
Coming from the perspective of a once upon a time kid and a current parent, I don’t want my own kids having a sense of false entitlement. You didn’t do squat (or squats) and you expect a trophy? What, are you high? No. You get out there, participate, and win. That’s how you get a trophy. If you win, you act like a good sport. If you lose, you will not be shamed for losing but you won’t be a sore loser. You can’t manage that? You’re benched. Plain and simple. But the problem with kids these days, like I’ve said before, are the parents. “My baby feels left out.” That’s because you’ve coddled the child. You’ve not allowed him or her to feel defeat. Hell, you probably haven’t let the kid feel triumph. Not in the right way, that is. If a person feels no defeat, there is no growth. There can be no room for improvement because he or she feels a false sense of productivity. All great winners were at one time losers. There is no shame in losing if you do it the right way.
Tired of losing? Try a little harder. Practice more. Whine less. Figure out a strategy.
And this isn’t just about sports. This is about the art of competition in general. Music, academics, sports… you name it. If a person fares poorly, there should be no physical reward. There can be a mental reward, though. To be a good sport and to work on tactics and principles… that is the reward in losing. When I screw something up I get frustrated. But after some time (and it may take a long time, admittedly) I’m able to pick up where I left off and work on my form. For me, as a mom, it’s cooking. Or sewing. Or trying to making a scarecrow costume for the umpteenth time only for it to look like the fabric section at Hobby Lobby vomited a half-assed design.
Gabe has genuinely sucked at some things. I mean, it’s been devastating. And he doesn’t like losing. But I let him anyway. Why? Because that’s the only way he’ll ever learn. There are no quitters in my house…. there are no whiners in my house (we’re working on it, anyway). Do I let him win every board game? No. In fact, if we were keeping score, it would be Mom – 10, Gabe – 4… give or take a few dozen games. Some games are simply chance, like Hi-Ho Cherry-O. Other games are strategic or memory based. Bottom line: he is already learning that he won’t always win and that win or lose, he should always be a good sport. Because the shoe could be on the other foot at any given point.
Gabe is also crazy good at some things. Even better than me. And that’s great! I encourage those things. He’s not so great at climbing the rock wall, but he masters all things that can be built. He doesn’t color very well, but he can draw some really neat things for a kid his age. He’s the best big brother and gives amazing hugs. He makes me laugh. He can make Connor cackle like no one else can. He’s my boy. And win or lose, he’s one of my biggest heroes. When he’s not being a turd, that is.
So, let your kids lose. It won’t damage their psyches and it won’t land them on America’s Most Wanted. Kids need to learn how to be tough and able now more than ever before. So let them fall on their faces. Let them eat dirt and score for the wrong team. Let them completely butcher the tuba solo at the spring concert. They may whine and complain now.. but when they’re out in the real world kicking butt and taking names they’ll thank you. And so will the rest of the parents who are so wishing you would just cut the cord.