I attended my 8-year-old grandson’s first track meet a couple weeks ago — a meet that, because of our last spring, had the kids competing against each other rather than competitors from other teams.
The competition was good, particularly for a newcomer. The team is big enough to offer multiple heats in most events.
What surprised me initially was the fact the top six winners in each event were awarded medals and ribbons.
Wait a minute.
This was an inter-squad meet. Ages ranged up to 14 years old. Why award medals?
The debate of giving trophies to youth athletes is not new. A couple years ago, “Coach and Athletic Director” asked readers this question. Some feel this practice creates a culture of entitlement without kids really earning the award. The result of the survey was 87 percent “no,” kids should not receive participation trophies. Thirteen percent said yes.
I was very proud of my grandson. He competed in three events and received two medals and one ribbon. He was so proud of himself. He had watched his older brother the last couple of years receive numerous awards for football and basketball and now it was his turn. It validated the hard work he was putting into the sport.
I started to think this was OK.
A recent letter in the New York Times Opinion page supported the awarding of physical awards of some sort to youth athletes. Sophomore Parker Abate of Misericordia University wrote “... what about those children who will never get to play competitive sports after the age of 14? Despite knowing that they are not particularly talented, these children go out and participate, generally to the best of their ability. They learn about teamwork, sportsmanship and they learn the importance of exercise. Those are all great things to know. While not all children will win the championship, working with a group of peers with the goal of succeeding teaches them that in life, teamwork and giving it your all is important.
“This is why the trophies that are given to less-talented athletes who participate in youth sports do not have to say ‘1st Place,’ ‘MVP’ or ‘Champion’. These young athletes should be honored in lesser ways and all deserve to feel some form of accomplishment.”
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Abate went on to write that self-esteem “is a big part of one’s childhood. Any kind of honor can make a young kid feel as if he or she meant something to the team, and that could boost the child’s self-confidence.”
His suggestion was to give the winners a trophy and all participants a certificate — “or small trophies.
“These kids dedicate time, effort and enthusiasm, and they deserve to have something tangible to make them feel that their participation was worthwhile. It could be the only form of athletic recognition they ever receive.
“In addition to acknowledging their effort, participation trophies or certificates remind them that they were part of a team ... Participation awards begin to instill the idea in a child’s mind that working with a unit can lead to success. Does success always mean coming in first? No. Success can mean working collaboratively and becoming a team.”
Abate was very insightful at an early age. Have I been swayed one way or the other? Not yet. I see pros and cons on both sides of the issue.
l Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and college sports information director. She is a partner with Outlier Creative Communications. Let her know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org