The Participation Trophy and How It's Ruining Everything

An Expecting Father's Greatest Fear for His Kids

I'm not a dad yet, but I'm going to be soon. I do have nieces and nephews and I see children out in the world. It's kind of made me afraid to be a dad. It seems like every time I leave the comfort of my own home, I'm confronted with the behavior of some spoiled little asshole. You all know what I'm talking about. It might even be your kid! Before people get offended, I want to make it clear that I don't place sole blame on parents for this. I blame the direction our society has gone in and is still going in. 

Look, I get it. You love your kids. You're proud of your kids. You should love them and you should be proud of them. Where we are all going wrong are these inflated, unrealistic expectations we have for them. I don't think it all comes from a bad place either. Some of it's just a viscous cycle we've trapped ourselves in. Our parents wanted us to do better than them and we want our kids to do better than us. At what point does it become unrealistic for us to out-do the generations before us? My dad didn't get to go to college. He worked long grueling hours of shift work in a coal mine. He didn't want that for me and that I can understand as well as appreciate. It wasn't an easy job. 

Still, I don't necessarily know that I'm doing better than he did. I don't make as much money as he did, even with a college degree, but I'm not poor. He's retired now, and I often wonder if that's something I'll ever be able to do. I mean, I have a hard time putting away enough money to support my Chipotle addiction, let alone retire. What kind of astronomical expectations am I going to place on my children? And who will I blame if they fall short? These are questions I ask myself all the time. I've decided to make a promise to myself and to my future children (the first making her debut in February). That promise is that I'm not going to set unrealistic expectations for them. All I ask is that they don't act like goof-ball idiots and respect themselves and others. I've also made a vow to take any participation trophy they receive and Gronk spike it off the pavement, because participation trophies are a problem. 

You go to a little league baseball game and you've got Bobby hitting dingers and turning double plays in Pampers pull-ups. I'm serious. There are small children out there that can beat me at me at sports. I think it's awesome. Bobby has found something he's naturally good at it and can continue to work at and enjoy throughout his life. Bobby's team always wins because he's out there swinging like Ken Griffey Jr. and getting Pedialyte IV's in the dugout. It's great to be on Bobby's team. Bobby and his team win the whole league and Bobby gets a big ass trophy and is voted the MVP. This just won't do. You see, Little Jimmy's parents cause a fuss because little Jimmy wants a trophy just like Bobby's. Little Jimmy's parents are going to sue the league so then all of the kids get trophies. 

Mind you, Jimmy is the kid in right field with his glove on his head, chasing a butterfly because he wants to eat it, the kid that wiffs on five straight pitches and then misses the ball while it's sitting on a tee three times. He gets to stay on first base even though he was thrown out, because he fell half-way down the first base line. But little Jimmy's parents told him he was as good as Bobby and that all that mattered was that he tried hard. Then they decided it's not fair for the team that won the league to get trophies and for the kid that played the best to get two trophies, while the other kids only got team-work experience, exercise, and new friends. 

This is a problem. We are creating kids who are entitled jerks that grow up to become entitled adults. There are life lessons that need to be learned while we are children that are going to shape the adults we grow up to be. Maybe, just maybe, little Jimmy needs to learn that he wasn't good enough this time to get a trophy like Bobby. Maybe someone needs to tell him that just because he wants one, doesn't mean he gets one. Maybe he needs to understand that he absolutely could get a trophy like Bobby, but he'll need to dedicate himself to practicing and learning and improving, that winning a trophy is a fantastic goal to have and the sense of pride he'll have when he earns it will be more valuable to him than the trophy itself. Hell, some kids just need to understand they just may not be cut out for certain things, but that doesn't make them any worse than anyone else. Not everybody has the same talents and skill sets and that's what makes the world such an incredible place. 

But we would rather give our children the quick fix — reward them for being mediocre which enforces the idea that that's okay, that you don't need to be dedicated and disciplined and hard-working because in the end, you're still going to get a trophy. In the end, everyone is going to make the team. While we're at it, let's stop keeping score since everyone wins anyway. I can't be the only one who sees this issue. There are young adults demanding things and honestly believing that because they're demanding them, they should get them. In a world full of safe spaces, we have people that are offended by anything and everything, and that honestly believe that them being offended by it means it shouldn't be allowed. 

And yet we, as adults, persist with this behavior. We've got toddlers in training camps in the hopes they'll become Olympians and professional athletes. We do cartwheels to get them into prestigious pre-schools. PRE-SCHOOLS! Have we all lost our minds? When did just letting them be kids become such a bad thing? I'd rather my kids learn social skills and how to follow rules in pre-school rather than reading and math. They'll have plenty of time for that later. I will do everything I can to give them resources to help them develop skills that they possess and are passionate about. But I want them to be kids. I want them to have friends, to have fun, to get in trouble, because that's what kids do. I want them to make mistakes and learn from them, because that's the only way they will actually learn. I want them to have everything they need and then some, but I also want them to work for things they want. Like hey, just because daddy has fifty bucks doesn't mean Barbie gets a corvette. Run the vacuum, walk the dog, help me do the dishes and then we'll talk. At least then, there will be some value attached to it. 

My point in all of this isn't to pound my chest and present myself as some hard-ass father I haven't even actually become yet. To be honest, I already know I'll give into my kids more than I should and do everything within my power to make them happy and give them a good life. What I'm trying to say is there are values that children need that have been all but eliminated and I want to make sure my kids learn those values because that's what's going to make them successful, self-sufficient adults, not me gift wrapping everything they want and telling them they're better at things than they are. I don't want my love for them to be translated as things. I don't want them to love me because I buy them stuff. I certainly don't want them to be completely destroyed because I lied to them about their abilities their entire young lives. I want them to love me for teaching them, for guiding them, so that one day, when they're adults and have made a life of their own, they will understand the importance of the tough lessons they had to learn that seemed unfair at the time, and then they can do the same for their children.

In the end, no amount of special schools or special training or material possessions can make a person successful. People have to want to be successful. They have to find what they're passionate about on their own. They have to know what it is to fail before they can learn what it takes to succeed. If my kids grow up and do something they love to do and find a person that they love, and who loves them in return, if they're kind and compassionate, respectful and open to opinions that they don't agree with, if they just aren't shitty people, they will have fulfilled the only expectations I will ever set for them. 

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The Participation Trophy and How It's Ruining Everything