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:
What we all want...
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...?
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.
“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