In this week's blog Steve Locker responds to the controversy surrounding Pittsburgh Steelers player, James Harrison, returning trophies that his children received for participation. You can read another authors take on the situation here. Below is Steve's response.
When we examine the many issues with youth sports, providing “participation trophies” is just one small aspect of a bigger problem. Importantly, all of these smaller issues contribute not only to the demise of youth sports, but perhaps even more alarmingly, to the creation of overly dependent adults.
There is so much being said in the media about dysfunctional parental behavior, and while it is clearly a big problem, perhaps we are missing some of the bigger issues. For instance, parental decision making! So much of what is wrong with youth sports can be tied directly to money. Simply stated, youth sports is big business. As it pertains to trophies, parents love seeing their offspring “light up” when they receive a trophy. Youth leagues, which are competing for this segment of a family’s budget, recognize what parents want. So they cater to the whims of parents, even though those desires are often off target.
This “cowering” to parental desires is contributing in more serious ways to our problems of keeping kids in sports. For instance, parents want to see their 4 & 5 year olds play “real” soccer. Guess what, 4 & 5 year olds aren’t capable of understanding real soccer. That’s why we have “beehive” soccer in this age group. While we THINK it looks cute, it’s actually quite boring to most kids, and a huge reason why 35% of children are quitting a sport each year. Imagine a typical 4-year-old chasing a ball around for 30 minutes every Saturday, only to touch it 3-4 times in that time period. Do you really think this is fun?
Youth leagues are not adequately supporting parent coaches, so when the coach runs out of ideas on what to do with ten 4-year-olds clamoring at his ankles, they resort to the easiest solution....let’s just play a game. Most us know that the simplest solutions are rarely the best solutions!
I do think that Harrison is on to something very important as he addresses this issue. We have created a generation of children who seem to get rewarded for just about everything they do. A pat on the back for the most mundane achievements. Combine these experiences with issues like grade inflation in our schools, and it’s no wonder that our children think of themselves as gifted. Sure, they are special to us, but in the bigger picture, they are not necessarily learning how to deal with adversity, develop a strong sense of self, or an attitude that focuses on work ethic and persistence. They don’t know how to create and to fail.
In her article called “Tough Enough?”, Martha Anne Tudor talks about the epidemic we are facing in our colleges with students who are so poorly prepared to deal with the reality of not being the best. “They are not learning the lesson they need most: how to become resilient adults.” Collegiate counseling centers are over-burdened all over the country.
In this same article, Furman University’s associate director of the Counseling Center shares, “Parents seem to expect that their children will become independent naturally, not realizing that their over-involvement and doting hamstring the process. Beyond the college years, there seems to also be a growing concern that many young adults have a difficult time coping with the notion that their bosses and not patting them on the back every time that they do something well. Their self-esteem is not that strong, and the counseling centers keep growing. Perhaps this trophy thing is more problematic than we want to think.
- Steve Locker
Read Martha Anne Tudor's article "Tough Enough?" published in the Fall 2014 issue of Furman Magazine found on page 33 here.