June 27, 2013

Fightin' Words: Trophies are earned, not given

Adam Troxtell
The Express-Star


The recent decision by Chickasha Little League to scrap participation trophies from their end of season routine has subsequently opened up a debate commonly heard across the recreational sports fields and courts of America.

The question surrounds the idea of rewarding a young, impressionable athlete for simply taking part in a sport and continuing through the season. It's something Little League President Bruce McGrew said he did not want to get into when I spoke to him, which is understandable given the decision was made for budgetary reasons.

And while the arguments parents made in favor of such trophies as the Facebook comments piled up are valid, I certainly don't agree with them.

I was once one of these kids, growing up on the town soccer fields as I played with my schoolmates from a small Texas town. Seeing as my team between ages 7 and 11 was from a town of 900, we understandably had little success in our league. Nevertheless, I always found myself with a trophy to put on top of my bookshelf at the end of each fall and spring. Honestly, I never really thought of them as anything more than a benchmark of time. With this, I knew the season was over an another was on the way.

As I grew older and my classmates went onto sports more suitable to a small town, like football, basketball and baseball, I stuck with it and was fortunate enough to end up on a very good team with kids living in a bigger city nearby. Soon, the trophies I received at the end of the season were not simply for participating. They were emblems of the hard work I put in twice a week at training and every weekend during games. 

They weren't always bigger than my participation trophies of the past. But they meant more, and I soon began replacing trophies I had been given before with ones I had earned now. I vividly remember thinking of the participation trophies as a 12-year-old "What did I get this for?"

They became pointless, possibly even condescending now that I knew what it took to earn something real, something that meant my team had worked harder than anyone else and I had fun doing it.

A kid that stays in the sport specifically for the trophy more than likely doesn't really enjoy the sport. To me, it shows they are looking for some form of appreciation they're not getting anywhere else to make this journey worthwhile.

I look back on my time in soccer before I was on a solid team for different reasons. I had fun with my teammates. My coach was a good teacher and I understood learning was the key to success. But the most important thing I remember was my mother, father, sister, and sometimes even grandparents, were always there. 

A few seasons my father, a man who had never kicked a ball in his life much less watched a game of soccer on television, even coached my team, and that is a memory that no trophy could even attempt to symbolize. 

For kids younger than 10, trophies only serve to distract. At this age, it is more important for a family to be involved, whether they are in the game or cheering on the sideline. Practice, teamwork, steady improvement, and learning are far more important than the weekly results of games or a trophy at the end of the season that can serve to confuse a child when it comes to the value of hard work.

I think what Chickasha Little League has done is strictly based on budget, but participation trophies are exactly what President Bruce McGrew described them as: a luxury. They are unnecessary and can do more harm than the good of a child simply understanding that their hard work and practice makes them important to the people that matter the most: mom and dad.