Whatever happened to a simple pat on the back?

10 03 2009

I know I’m stepping on thin ice with some folks, but I would like to know why we feel it’s necessary to reward our children with trophies and lavish end-of-season parties every time our children finish playing a season of sports.

By we, I mean middle-class America, myself included.

I know small children love these trophies and have come to expect them. So what’s the harm?

Allow me to rant.

I have several reasons why I’m against trophies given for participation. First, they are expensive. Parents are typically asked to chip in an extra $10 per child for these rewards. Or the cost of the trophy is rolled into the registration fee. Either way, we’re paying for all that plastic gold.

Just think of all the money we could save.

Second, all these trophies — these most-prized possessions to 6- or 8-year-olds — become junk to teen-agers. Trust me on this.

Just think of all the clutter we could avoid — not to mention the dusting we could eliminate.

Finally, I object to these trophies because of the message they send our kids. I think it gives children the false impression that they should expect a reward for doing what is expected. Who among us gets a bonus for showing at work?

Just think of the real thrill our kids will feel when they receive a trophy they have actually earned.

My two sons, who are now in college, had more than 25 trophies, plaques and medals each by the time they entered high school. With few exceptions, all were given for simply being on a team. They were not earned for a particular accomplishment or a championship. They were presented — most times at a catered celebration — for showing up and participating.

At age 10, my daughter has a trophy for every year she's been alive and her collection is modest in comparison to most girls her age.

At age 10, my daughter has a trophy for every year she's been alive and her collection is modest in comparison to most girls her age.

Now my 10-year-old daughter has her own collection going. She has 10 collecting dust on the top shelf of the bookcase in her bedroom. Plus two medals. As she heads off to middle school this fall, I know it won’t be long before she tells me they are no longer wanted. I’ll never forget when my son Andrew loaded up all his trophies and unceremoniously tossed them in a cardboard box and put them in the hallway outside his bedroom. When I asked him why he wanted to toss his trophies, he informed me that he had not earned them, therefore, they were meaningless.

A few years later, my second son, Zachary, did the same thing. I kept the trophies in the attic for several years, not knowing what to do with them. I tried calling a couple charity organizations that sponsor sports teams for underprivileged children to offer the trophies to them. I thought perhaps they could simply replace the name plates and voila, give the trophies new life. No takers. Eventually, I saved one trophy for each boy as a remembrance and guiltily threw the others away.

I kept thinking about this same scenario playing out across the country……miniature monuments to excess filling our landfills.

When summer swim team season rolled around that next year, I made my pitch to do away with the trophies. You would have thought I had asked that we stop swimming the backstroke. Unheard of.

I suggested that they give all the teens on the team a gift card to a fast-food restaurant instead of a trophy. No go. I finally got them to agree to stop buying the trophies for my two boys but even this didn’t always work. More often then not, my boys still got trophies.

This year, as the economy worsens and folks start re-examining their way of doing things, I’m going to take this opportunity to again make my pitch to stop the trail of trophies to the dump.

It’s the perfect time to get rid of the excess and emphasize what really matters.

While we’re at it, let’s get rid of the elaborate end-of-season parties. What’s wrong with having cupcakes after the last game or meet? A handshake from the coach, a pat on the back and call it a season to remember.

Those memories are priceless. And they don’t have to be dusted.

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4 responses

10 03 2009
Tara

I agree 100%. I remember growing up, playing on various sport teams. We would all hold our breath to see if we would come in 1st, and receive a trophy. When we didn’t, yes we were disappointed. However it made us strive for greatness in the next season in the hopes that we would be the ones to get the coveted trophy, because it meant something!
To this day I have them!

10 03 2009
Mindy

Amy, I couldn’t agree more. I didn’t realize this is how things were done these days until my daughter started playing sports. She received a trophy for being on a 5-year-old soccer team. Every child got one. At the ripe old age of 7, she has several soccer trophies and swim team medals, along with about 50 swim ribbons (one for each event swam). You’re right…they really don’t MEAN much if you got it just for participating. Well said.

10 03 2009
MiserMary

My 10 year old daughter read this and said she would love to get rid of all her trophies and clean out the clutter. Some are so big they do not fit onto her shelf and already up in our attic.
My older daughter earned a paper certificate for Most Improved Runner on her cross country team and this holds a special place in our home. All those participation trophies are a waste, in my opinion. But that flat piece of paper will fit into a scrap book (someday when I get around to making one) and we will always treasure & remember her hard work and dedication that earned her such an honor!

10 03 2009
freetobefrugal

Thanks Tara, Mindy and MiserMary. It’s good to know I’m not alone!

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