This week we will look at whether there is a place for participation awards in youth sport. There are many reasons people would take part in an activity or play a sport; fitness, fun, competition, money, fame, acceptance, identity, recognition, and the feeling of achievement among other motivators. Awards? For some people, yes, but does everyone play to earn an award or trophy? Do youths involved in sport think that the end result should always be to feel like a winner? Do kids believe there should be no losers? Or is it parents who decide they don’t want their kids to be “damaged” by losing, and therefore feel the need to give ribbons to everyone who shows up?
As humans we will work hard and focus on the things we want to achieve, and we will work to improve so we meet the goals we have. We want to earn rewards for our hard work and we feel good when we achieve them. However, not every kid wants to grow up to be the next Lionel Messi, Carli Lloyd, or Wayne Gretzky, and it will show in their work-rate and effort. Some kids just want to enjoy playing and don’t care about winning or losing.
What does it do for a kid when their team, through hard work and high performance, wins a tournament and the team who finishes last gets the same/similar reward? What does that tell them about the rewards for their hard work and effort? It’s not important to put effort in because “Why work hard? Whether I work hard or not, I still win.” And what of those who don’t win? “Why work hard? Whether I work hard or not, I still win/don’t lose.” I would even argue that in many cases the response is closer to this: “Oh, a certificate for doing something I don’t really care about but my parents pushed me into.” How long before that certificate is crumpled up somewhere never to be seen again? What if everyone who went to college was given a degree, just for showing up?
Here are the three takeaways for today:
1 – Not everyone cares about winning or losing in everything they do, some people just want to have fun. I recently coached a U6 team and after one game in which we didn’t score at all and the other team had one of those kids who can run around everyone and score at will the kids came off and said “Who won?”. We didn’t score a goal, the other team scored maybe 10 or more (we don’t count at that age in this program). I said “Not sure.” They all high-fived, we did out little hands in the middle “Go Wildcats” thing and everyone went to get ice cream.
2 – We shouldn’t fear losing, and we shouldn’t fear our kids losing. When we lose we gain a measurement of where we need to be if we do want to win, and when our kids lose we have a chance to teach them that performance is more important.
3 – Most people don’t want to win at everything they do. Some people simply want to enjoy the game, or improve their health, or just hang out with friends.
For some people, and especially younger players, there is more joy to be had just by being a part of something and being involved in something new than there is in the result.
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