'Participation' Trophies; No Different Than 'Participation' Letters

My son and his son: Little League Baseball


By Larry Peterson

I coached/managed Little League Baseball for many years. At the end of every season every kid on the team received a trophy at our annual dinner or picnic or whatever else the league decided to sponsor that year. Giving a trophy to each  player, no matter how good or bad or clumsy or geeky they were,  was always the right thing to do.

It was for ‘participation’ and participation meant each young person was a part of something special, that being the team. Most importantly, it signified effort and commitment and sacrifice on each child’s part to win a spot on a team. There were tryouts that  required coming to the field and ‘showing what you got’ to the coaches who were lined up holding clipboards and observing. Then the kids were drafted and placed on a team.

The new teammates would meet, be introduced to each other by the coaches and then begin practicing. Practices could be three or four nights a week (maybe more). Then followed the season and so forth. The kids invariably became friends, learned teamwork and camaraderie, and win or lose, at the end of the season they had all been part of something. The bottom line was—they had committed  and followed through.

Some players were outstanding young athletes. Others could not remember the correct way to hold a bat in their hands. It did not matter. The kids always knew who the prime players were and who were not. Those who were not, always got at least one AB (at bat) and played two innings per game. That is why they all received a ‘participation’ trophy. They earned it. They came to practices, sweated like everyone else, and then rode the bench for most of the season. The outstanding players received individual awards. One player was usually awarded the Most Valuable Player trophy and one was awarded a plaque for having the highest batting average or most home runs. The other kids were always fine with that because they knew it was the right thing to do.

Look, every high school and college athlete in the country gets a ‘Letter’ when he or she participates all season in a school activity. Participants in baseball, football, basketball, band, gymnastics, wrestling, track, and so on are awarded ‘Letters’. Some players rarely get off the bench to play. But they earned a spot on the team and received a ‘Letter’ just like everyone else.Then they would get ‘Letterman’ jacket and have the letter sewn on it. When they wear their jacket they are representing their team and their school. They are proud of it. They were a part of something special. Many people actually keep their Letterman jackets their entire lives and they may never have gotten off the bench when they were players. But they had made the team and were part of it and nothing can ever change that fact.

There are extremes in this politically correct--‘don’t hurt anyone’s feelings environment’ that exists today. Recognition for earning straight A’s and making Principles List or getting all A’s and B’s and making Honor Roll is a GOOD thing; yet some schools do not want to give that recognition. But they fail to realize that the other kids can use that as a goal to attain. This is extreme and a failure to teach young people that reward and consequence are a part of life. There are even some sports programs where they have decided not to keep score so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings. Life is filled with ‘ups and downs’ and they are depriving the children of this valuable lesson.

What youth sports primarily teaches is teamwork and socialization skills. It helps develop lasting friendships. If some of the overbearing ‘my kid is perfect’ parents would stay home and leave their kid(s) alone we might all be better off.
                            ©Larry Peterson 2015 All Rights Reserved

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