A Baffling Bill

A Baffling Bill

This headline recently appeared in North Carolina: “NC senators propose eliminating participation trophies for youth sports.” 

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Participation trophy debate makes its way to NC senators

This headline recently appeared in North Carolina: “NC senators propose eliminating participation trophies for youth sports.” 

I’m not even going to try to figure out how great life must be in North Carolina if this is something state legislators are focused on, but I am sure there must be more important issues!

In brief, the bill would apply to any youth-sports or youth-recreation activities operated under the authority of a local government, and would ban awards for kids based solely on participation in a sport. Instead, awards would be provided “based on identified performance achievements.” 

Before readers assume I am taking a stand in support of participation trophies, hear me out. It is comical that this topic is brought up so often when talking about various issues with kids and their future. So, rewarding kids for playing on a team—regardless of whether they played well or won games—is going to somehow impact that child’s life? And yes, I understand the argument that rewards based on merit inspire kids to do better. But I also understand that recognizing children with an award—at an appropriate age—is a good thing. 

No One-Size-Fits-All Answer

First, let’s recognize there is a big difference between 5-year-olds playing T-ball and 12-year-olds playing in a basketball league. This bill will throw a blanket over all youth sports—no matter the age—and woefully misses the mark. Let’s talk about a non-athletic 5-year-old whose parents have convinced him or her to try something new. They want their child to experience all the great things inherent in sports: sportsmanship, socialization, persistence, listening to instructions, and 50 other traits I can name that have nothing to do with “identified performance.” Can it possibly be bad to recognize those children in leagues designed to be an introduction to a sport? I hope your answer is “no!”

How does one quantify being a great teammate, being a good sport, and learning to do one’s best? Are these senators saying it’s not all right to reward children for developing these traits? Call me crazy, but I would rather my son or daughter be recognized as a great teammate well before the number of points he or she scores in a season! 

And let’s not forget the way youth leagues are structured. In leagues with teams of young children typically in two-year increments, children can be three to four years apart in physical development. Is it really a good idea to only focus on the children who are already at a great advantage before a season even starts? I don’t think so.

The “Best” Awards

When my son was five years old, I was his T-ball coach. A teammate named Tyler could have easily played up to the 8- and 9-year-old league, but it was against league rules. He was far and away the best player. With him on our team, it was almost impossible to lose a game. Since he grabbed all the attention based on performance, I created awards for almost every other category I could think of, from best display of sportsmanship, to most improved, team leader, best teammate, best attendance, etc. The parents loved it, the players loved it, and it showed there are many important things in sports beyond wins or statistics that deserve an award.

On the other hand, when children get older and are in leagues that are appropriately based on competition and identifying the best teams and individuals, then participation trophies are not a great idea. Will it ruin a child’s overall development? Probably not, but guess what’s the best way to find out? Pay attention to the kids. Once they start maturing, they want to be recognized based on their performance.

But we certainly don’t need a law to tell us!