Should kids get trophies just for being on a team?
All-pro linebacker James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers doesn’t think so. When his 8- and 6-year-old sons came home with trophies for showing up at a camp, Harrison made them take the “participation trophies” back.
Harrison explained on Instagram, “While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do . . . these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy.”
Not everyone agrees with Harrison. I spoke with Brian Sanders, the president of i9 Sports, an organization that runs more than 500 youth sports leagues. Sanders said i9 Sports leagues give participation awards at the end of the season to its athletes younger than 14. (They also give awards for good sportsmanship and to division champions.)
With so many kids dropping out of sports because it’s not fun, Sanders and i9 Sports think they should “do everything to keep the kids playing.” Participation awards encourage kids. And, as Sanders explained, “showing up is part of being on a team.”
I am somewhere in the middle. I think it’s okay to give young kids a small award for playing on a team. But as kids grow up — when they’re age 10 and older — trophies and similar prizes should be given only for a winning season or for outstanding play or hustle.
I’ve coached more than 30 kids’ teams, and one of the things I discovered is that playing sports encourages kids to improve. Awards that are earned can help.
On my baseball and softball teams, I gave the game ball to the player who made the outstanding defensive play in the game. This encouraged the kids to try to make a great play instead of trying to avoid making a mistake.
On my soccer and basketball teams, I awarded sports cards to the player who hustled the most during the game.
I gave game balls or hustle cards to as many kids on those teams as possible. After all, any player can hustle or make one great play.
Still, a mother told me one baseball season, “Fred, I think it would be nice if everyone got a game ball.”
I stood firm. “They will get a ball if they make a play,” I said.
Later that season, her son Adam made a catch in left field with the bases loaded and two outs to save the game. The catch earned Adam a game ball.
Years later, I was in Adam’s parents’ house. What did I see on the mantel, preserved in a plastic trophy case? The game ball.
I don’t think Adam would have saved that baseball if I had given everyone a game ball. After all, an award is not really an award if everyone gets it.
Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 21 sports books for kids. His latest soccer book, “Out of Bounds,” was published this month.