Before we started talking about concussions and overuse injuries and pitch counts and any number of other ways youth sports were potentially dangerous for kids, we talked a lot about how, as parents and coaches, we’d gone soft.
Heck, every kid who tried out for a team made it, and at the end of the year each received a trophy or a ribbon or some other symbol of their having played the season. We were raising a generation of wussies! Where was the competition? Why were we teaching kids that all they had to do was show up? The reward they got at the end of the season essentially was meaningless because everybody got one, whether they led the team in hitting or they were the last kid off the bench.
So went the hue and cry. On the other side of the argument, some parents and coaches felt that youth sports are about building confidence in kids and teaching teamwork. They felt that if some kids won trophies and others didn’t, the latter would feel like failures. Rather than building each kid’s confidence and teaching them the importance of teamwork we would be doing the opposite. They wanted to avoid creating a hierarchy based on athletic ability. Any kid who wanted to play should be able to do it and all should be treated equally.
In recent years I’ve heard this once popular debate a whole lot less. We’ve pretty much accepted the latter view as far as de-emphasizing competition with teams. Meanwhile, travel teams and select leagues are pretty standard now, and serious athletes can play year around. The distinctions are pretty clear.
So I was surprised to hear the argument raised in this article from drstankovich.com. I tweeted a link to the article and a few tweeters shot back their opinions on the topic. Maybe the argument hasn’t been put to rest as much as we assumed.
Where do you fall on the spectrum? I’ve long advocated a balanced approach. At the end of the season, every kid who has stuck it out receives a ribbon or badge or trophy, whatever the league suggests. But then there are special awards for top hitter, top pitcher, top fielder, most improved, and so on. I usually throw in a few humorous ones too, which give us a fun way to celebrate the season and recall humorous moments.
In this way the top performers are acknowledged but no one leaves empty-handed. I think this approach is fairly common. Though it does single out the best players, by the end of the season it’s rarely a secret who are the best hitters and fielders and pitchers. No one should have their feelings hurt. And if it’s a close call on “best” at any one skill it’s easy to call it a tie or to make sure both players in contention are recognized.
I’ve never had a parent complain that their kid was overlooked. I believe in giving every kid plenty of playing time, and I believe in treating them all equally. All should feel they played an important role on the team. At the same time, giving a nod to the best players seems only fair, as they usually are the kids who are the most dedicated to the game.
Let us know your opinion on this subject. Because it involves kids’ emotions and feelings of confidence it’s worth discussing. And maybe always will be.