Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How can I be a WINNER if YOU have a PRIZE?

These participation medals are EARNED by participation in my youth chess tournaments. They are not meant as 'non stop recognition' or to make sure that players are ‘constantly assured that they are winners’ and they are not meant to demean the achievements of the players that win the tournaments or earn a trophy or ribbon. They are participation medals - nothing more and nothing less. I apologize in advance to anyone that feels their child is being softened up, 'wussified', or being taught the 'wrong life lessons' from getting a participation medal at one of my youth tournaments. Now on to this week's topic:

  Last week Yahoo News headlined this ABC News video article about the Keller Youth Association Football League in north Texas decision to stop giving out participation trophies to their 7,000 players. The organizations Facebook website says ‘Going forward participation medals or trophies will be going away. KYA Football board feels that giving participation medals or trophies isn't sending our children the right message. Trophies are something you should strive for and earn. Life does not give you a participation job or medal, life makes you earn everything you get. We know not everyone will agree but we feel this is the right direction for KYA Football to go in.... ‘. The video was especially smarmy with reporter Matthew Forster's first line being ‘Sorry Kids…you’re going to have do a little more than just show up’. When interviewed for the piece, the KYA program director said ‘You have to go above and beyond in order to get those rewards. In order to succeed at life you have to give 110% all the time…not just sometimes…all the time”. Forster's statement saying ‘most of the parents are just fine with the decision’ is followed with a sound bite of a parent saying his son ‘has 10 or 12 trophies that don’t mean anything to him right now. The championship trophy from last year means something.’

What we all want...
  While I think 7,000 participation trophies may be a little much, I don’t get why the idea of an award for participation is the ‘wrong message’. I coached four little league teams and at the end of each season I pulled money out of my pocket to get the team trophies or medals engraved with their names. They were not only awards but also a token to remember a shared baseball season. Coaches that didn’t give their players even a slice of pizza weren’t happy with me but none of the parents ever seemed upset. Except one. There was a parent whose son stopped coming to the games halfway through the season but called me a month after the season ended looking for her son’s trophy after she found out from another mom about the trophies. I told her that since her son stopped coming to the games, I didn’t order a trophy for him. I got called a couple of names but I haven’t seen the young man’s name on the police reports in the paper over the past ten years so I don’t think he was permanently scarred and turned into a serial whatever unless they moved and changed their name due to the trauma. If that is the case and this grown-up child is stalking me I want to publicly state that I really did have the trophy made and sent by UPS to your house but your next door neighbors stole it so you should be stalking them and not me.

  I get the dad whose kid’s 10 or 12 participation trophies don’t mean anything but whose championship trophy does mean something. A common complaint I hear from some chess parents is how many chess trophies their kids have and these are all parents of kids that have a lot of chess trophies. I’ve never heard this particular complaint from a parent whose child has won one trophy or maybe never won a trophy. My kids have over a hundred trophies and medals (mostly chess) in the house. Their favorites were a) the latest one, b) the most unique one, and c) the one their brother didn’t have. I see the kids at my youth chess tournaments give up when they can’t win a trophy but I’ve never seen one quit because they’ve won too many. I wonder if football dad’s kid would feel different about the participation trophies if he wasn’t on the championship team last year.

  I’ve never seen a player or parent confuse receiving a participation medal or trophy with winning a chess tournament or baseball league and I’m sure the KYA football players weren’t throwing Gatorade on their coaches after receiving their participation trophies. I checked out the Keller Youth Association Facebook page looking for the parents' reaction to the decision and from the comments I saw it appeared that there is more to the issue than participation awards. There were a lot of complaints about the teams being separated into playoff divisions after the season and then the winning team players’ of each playoff bracket getting the same size trophy. This means the second best team in the top bracket doesn’t get a playoff trophies while the team that wins the lowest playoff bracket does and tells me that the participation trophies are part of a larger trophy issue with KYA-Football.

But when we get it...?
  Three months ago I shared my observations on winning when I wrote about my experiences at a Time Odds Blitz chess tournament, Vince and Bill’s arguments over counting change on an early Sunday morning at the Jiffy, and the bughouse tournament at my chess camp. In that piece I noted that while winning the bughouse tournament and Jiffy argument was very important to the combatants, I didn’t have the same need to win my Time Odds Blitz games and readily offered and accepted draws. At the time I said my actions didn’t mean I was a good sport but that winning the Time Odds Blitz games weren’t that important to me. A few weeks later I wrote that playing on in a hopelessly drawn position at the State Fair speed chess tournament didn’t make me a bad sport – it just meant that winning that game was very important to me. When I do give out trophy prizes at my youth chess tournaments the top 5 places get the same size trophy. Two years ago I had a parent of one of the top players complaining and questioning why the first place trophy was the same size as the fifth place trophy. He had a hard time accepting my explanation that I ordered 20 of the same trophy to get a discount and that in my experience there was plenty of competition to finish first even if they were over the exact same trophies except that one says first and one says second, etc… Eventually, I offered to place a piece of Scotch tape under the first place trophy if his son won it so HIS SON's trophy would be taller than the others and everyone would know that HIS SON was a better player than the rest and I also mentioned that everyone would know that HE WAS a better parent than the rest of the parents because HIS SON's trophy was taller than the everyone else's trophy because of the piece of Scotch tape I was going to place underneath it (YES I really said it and I really said it in front of other parents). The parent declined the offer and I haven’t seen him at my tournaments since and while I miss his child I don’t miss him. It wasn’t enough for his son to win the tournament – he had to have a bigger trophy so everyone else would know at a glance. Maybe it isn’t enough for the KYA ‘championship parents’ to have their children be champions – they have to make sure everyone else knows it also and having all these trophies around blurs the lines too much.

  The internet is full of pundits proclaiming the virtues of the KYA not giving out their participation trophies. I did a search on Google of the term ‘kya football participation trophies’ and found articles titled ‘Everyone No Longer a Winner in Texas Youth Football League’ and ‘Youth Football League Will Stop Giving Trophies to Losing Kids’. I’d like to think that the kids and their parents are smart enough to understand that getting a participation trophy is not the same as a championship trophy or winning a championship or winning a game and only in the Wizard of Oz would anyone think conferring a trophy makes one a winner. If every player were to get a team picture or a football for participating would the pundits still be as upset or is it the trophy that gets them so nuts because a trophy or a medal is associated with winners? I think that it takes a certain amount of courage to compete in a chess tournament or be on a sports team and all the participants should be recognized for being willing to compete. I don’t think it makes them soft or unwilling to work later in life or gives them a head start towards an entitlement mentality or being a minion of the nanny government if being willing to compete gets some recognition.

  The video and article don’t show the size of the participation trophies but since the KYA Facebook page had no complaints about the size of them I’ll estimate that the participation trophies are of a modest variety and cost $2 apiece when purchased in a quantity of 7,000. The minimum registration fee is $140 to participate in the KYA football program. Could this be nothing more than a large company with a budget of over a million dollars ($140 * 7,000 + fundraisers) finding at least a $14,000 savings under the guise of life lessons learned?

  I’ve been running monthly youth chess tournaments in the Des Moines area for the last 3 years and for the last 3 years I’ve given each participant a participation medal or button. I had custom made buttons for the first 10 tournaments and for the last 24 tournaments custom-made medals. I’ve always rewarded the top finishers at these tournaments with medals (when I was giving out participation buttons), ribbons, or trophies. The participation buttons and medals are my way of a) thanking them for coming to the tournament and b) making sure no player leaves my tournament empty handed. Except for a very few gifted players, the first few chess tournaments playing against experienced competition with unfamiliar rules can be so frustrating that it is easy for a player and their parents to give up on tournaments but if I can keep that player going to three or four tournaments they start to show the improvement that most young players do and find themselves able to compete. My participation medals are not to make everyone feel like a winner – it is to reward their participation. I imagine similar reasoning led the KYA to give out participation trophies in the first place.

  I’m not used to having a lot handed to me and I’m no social psychologist like the author of this New York Times piece that equates participation awards with ‘non-stop recognition’ and ‘children constantly assured that they are winners’. If these awards were to show the children they were winners, wouldn’t they say ‘WINNER’ on them? These awards are handouts or keepsakes not much different than a program from a play or goodie bags from a birthday party or business conference. The only people I’ve ever seen get their nose bent out of shape over participation awards are the parents of achievement award winners who can’t be happy with their child’s achievement unless it is accompanied by the adulation or jealously of all the non-winners.

  If the KYA doesn’t want to give out participation awards that’s their business and their customers will show them whether it is a sound business decision or not but their comments justifying the decision just seem silly to me. On the video the director said “In order to succeed at life you have to give 110% all the time…not just sometimes…all the time.” How can you ‘give 110% all the time’? Or any of the time? Or even once? Is 100% some sort of halfway mark or ¾ post that is readily surpassed? Is the person giving 110% all the time doomed to failure if everyone else gave 111% all the time or 220 percent 51% of the time? Sure makes that guy giving 100% look like a real slacker.

Earned income???
  As for the Facebook page saying “Life does not give you a participation job or medal, life makes you earn everything you get”, there is at least a kernel of truth to that saying although it wasn’t readily apparent when I was at the Wal-Mart Saturday waiting behind the family with 2 pot roasts, 8 chickens, 2 cabbages, assorted seasonings and paying with an EBT card and then getting 2 gallons of milk free with a WIC coupon. I’m not knocking the family – I’m just saying they probably didn’t earn the EBT card or WIC coupons. And speaking of participation jobs, check out the road crew personnel from my 2011 blog post. How else would one earn a participation award except by PARTICIPATING? And at the risk of offending my atheist readers as long as I’m on the topic of what is and is not earned I’ll close with this quote concerning at least one thing that life does not make you earn… salvation!
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.Ephesians 2:8-9