Spring is almost here and I’ve got that bug to clean up and clean out in my house. As I look around my sons’ rooms, I can’t help but notice the plethora of trophies and ribbons both have cluttering their shelves, closets, drawers and bookcases.
I’m not bragging. I’m just making an observation. Of course they’re both superstars. That’s why they have so many trophies, right?
Let’s be honest. Most of those trophies are meaningless. It used to be that medals were awarded to winners. Not anymore. Now kids get trophies for participation, last place, and even just for having their name on the roster (yep, there’s also a trophy for that kid who showed up for half the games and practices).
I don’t get the idea of the “participation” trophy. I mean who actually earned it anyway — the kid or the parent who got them to every game on-time, in uniform and ready to play? Don’t we parents deserve some kind of an award too, maybe a statue in the middle of town?
Earlier this month, my 13-year-old, a competitive swimmer, “earned” a ribbon for his part on a relay team that took 8th place in the state championship. He knows that the only place that matters in a relay is first. First place earns points for the team. In his opinion, only the athletes on that team deserve medals. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that if my 13-year-old needs a ribbon for every event he competes in, then he probably needs therapy too. As for that 8th place ribbon, I bet it’s at the bottom of his underwear drawer.
My nine-year-old had a similar experience last summer. It was the end of the season. His baseball team just lost the final game. They weren’t champions, they were runner-ups. Still the coach presented them with trophies for effort. The trophy didn’t make my son feel better, just confused. He handed it to me in the car and said, “Why are we getting this trophy. We lost.”
I’m not saying there isn’t a place for ribbons and trophies. I’m suggesting that we save them to honor real accomplishments. My 13-year-old’s most cherished ribbons are for the swim races when he broke team records. His favorite trophy is from the year when his baseball team won the league championship. He was eight at the time. For my nine-year-old, it’s the soccer trophy when his team, the “Fire-and-Ice-Breathing Dragons” (so-named by the players), went undefeated for the season. It’s also the hockey puck he saved when he made his first goal. These are the trophies that matter.
I recently came across a bronze medal for a swim race I competed in when I was probably nine or 10. I don’t remember the race or the circumstances, but I suspect that I saved it because at one time I was very proud of that third place accomplishment. It may be the only medal I ever won as a swimmer. It meant something.
It seems to me that there has to be better ways to build self-esteem than by giving trophies to every child who signs up for a sport. Good coaches know how to motivate kids in other ways. Some of the best coaches my kids have had were great at using losses to teach valuable lessons about how to play the game smarter. When I was a kid, only the winners were given trophies and the rest of us learned that valuable lesson: it’s ok to lose. After all, if we were all winners, there wouldn’t be sport at all.
So what do we do with all of those meaningless trophies, medals, plaques and ribbons destined to pile up in our landfills? Off the top of my head, here are a couple of ideas:
- Re-use, Renew, Recycle: Open up trophy thrift stores where coaches can buy used trophies. Who cares if the inscription doesn’t make sense? Four-year-old Johnny can’t read, so he’ll never know that trophy he received for playing on his first soccer team is inscribed with the words, “Small-Fry Fish Tournament Summer 2004.”
- Rodent Litter: My nine-year-old has a hamster. Every week or so, he cleans out the cage and fills it with wood chips. It keeps his room from smelling like a petting zoo. Shredded place ribbons are a great way to pad the cage.
- Wildlife Protection: Party stores sell weights to keep helium balloons from floating away at parties. Trophies, plaques and medals are a perfect alternative for keeping balloons from sailing into the atmosphere and then falling into our oceans where they could strangle sea turtles and gulls.
- Zombie Apocalypse Weapon: We’re big fans of anything zombie in our house. Nothing works better at stopping a zombie than a blunt object to the head. Many trophies have big marble bases – great for zombie annihilation.
Do you have any good ideas for putting those trophies to work? Let me know. Spring cleaning starts at my house in a couple of days.