The Growing Trend of “All Are Winners” in Youth Sports: Is it Really a Good Thing???

Lisa Lagrou’s article Should every child get a trophy? does a good job of presenting the current push toward the “everyone gets an award” mentality. Using her own daughter’s recent soccer sports experience, where their team (a team that had won only one game all season long) was awarded the same trophy as the best team in the league after losing to them in the final game of the season, she questions the everyone-is-deserving thought process.

Lagrou goes on to explain how it’s not just this particular league that has an “all get the same award” perspective but that her son’s football league, a completely different group than who her daughter plays for, has the same policy.

Her final example extends into individual awards where a former colleague of her husband’s had a daughter who was told (at the awards banquet) that she could not receive the highest honor on the team, like an MVP award, because she had received it the year before. This was aside from the fact that she was over-and-above in ability than any other player on the team.

These three examples are clearly indicative of a movement in youth sports to create an environment where “winning” is not the main focus and simple participation becomes worthy of honors.

Centered on trying not to hurt anyone’s feelings (their self-esteem), these “everyone gets a trophy” type policies certainly look to be in opposition of the “winning at all costs” attitudes I discuss frequently on my blog. An out of control mentality (winning no matter what) that can lead to poor character choices from athletes, like the ones we see and read about in the media on a regular basis (steroids, other PED’s, cheating, etc.).

I truly enjoyed Ms. Lagrou’s take on this issue as it raises a very important question. An essential query revealing our society’s consistent overreaction to problems, or things perceived as issues, where we push the pendulum from one extreme to the other, never really finding that appropriate balance.

We see a kid lose, he or she cries, we make a rule so no one cries. We find an athlete getting consistently rewarded for great effort and awesome skill, causing hurt feelings to others who weren’t quite there, just change the parameters for the award to make sure it gets passed around. We know winning at all costs is becoming a big problem; let’s devalue winning as a whole and just make everybody winners.

In my view, this pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other is not a good thing. We just substitute one problem for another and end up, in this case, destroying some of the positive life lessons that youth sports participation can bring.

The whole meaning of “life-lesson” is that it has a strong relationship to what life is actually like, only, at times, maybe a little more tempered. And in life, not everybody wins, sometimes, even when their efforts exceed others. If everyone is rewarded and becomes “outstanding,” then where is the incentive?

In fact, it is quite possible that rewarding everyone with a “trophy” might do more harm than good as it tends to lean toward supporting entitlement-type attitudes.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about rewarding only the best with a trophy and everyone else gets nothing. Nor am I in support of pounding a “some are winners some are not” philosophy at younger stages of the game, actually at any stage of the game. On the contrary, this is all about balance, along with what is appropriate at what age. It should be gradual in nature, becoming more and more like real life as athletes enter and move through their teens.

It is very possible to have certificates of participation (especially at the younger ages), along with several different types of awards (hardest worker, most improved, best team player, etc.) and an MVP. No matter what you come up with, giving kids different levels of award gives everyone something to shoot for. It can inspire them.

In fact, I have to admit that my own athletic experience was going nowhere fast until I was inspired to want to win a certain “trophy,” was told it was not possible, and had to figure out how to make it happen. I can’t begin to tell you the number of life lessons in that story.

The key is for us, all of us (parents, coaches, programs, organizations, etc.), to find a better balance between “the everyone gets a trophy” mentality and “only the talented get rewarded” approach. Extremes on either end of the pendulum swing are not usually good for anyone.

Comments

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  • I had no hand-eye co-ordination as a child, so being the star athlete was not in the cards for me. Ever. I didn't win one trophy LOL. However, not being a no-winner-winner made me focus on other things that I COULD do. At a young and impressionable to have given me the idea that I could turn pro one day would have been a crime. I might have believed it, or part of it, and been severely disappointed to not even qualify as water boy on the high school varsity team.

    Too many winners spoils the edge.

  • Hey Richard,

    Thanks for the comment. Great point for sure. There is something to be said for the life-lessons taught when trophies have to be earned.

  • Great piece. To Richard's point - I see too many kids being made to "try out" a huge variety of different sports, many of which they are not at all suited to. My teen has had phenomenal hand/eye co-ordination since he was two, and my 8 year old is currently covered in bruises from trying to learn to jump rope at school! It's not the end of the world if your child isn't a natural athlete; they are usually half-way decent at something else.
    If parents would follow their children's instincts and interests, we might have less disappointed, non-winning kids to worry about in the first place.

  • Thanks Expat,

    Also, thanks for the comment. Your points are well taken. It is my view that all of us are born with a "talent" in something. The key to really, truly being happy is disconvering where those talents are and then working hard to do the best that you can with the talents you have been given.

    Best,

    Kirk
    Becoming a True Champion
    BATC

  • This is thing that bothers me about today's culture. We live in a world where 5th place trophies are given out. That does not help kids become competitive it helps them become lazy.

  • Hey, thanks for posting Evan. I definitely see the diminishing of the competitive spirit over the years I have been teaching. There has to be a better balance between an all get trophies philosophy and only #1 gets a trophy. There are other ways to keep the incentive than what the current trend promotes.

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