Trophies are for winners, not everybody

Chris Miles -

I remember the very first trophy I ever earned, I was in fifth or maybe it was sixth grade and I finished first in my age group in a free throw shooting contest at my elementary school.

It wasn’t a very very big trophy, but it had a little bronze man in a jump shooting position on top and I treasured it. In fact it sat atop my dresser in my bedroom for years as a reminder of something special I had accomplished.

I had sunk 19 of 25 free throws to win the competition at my school which advanced me to the city-wide championship a week later at one of the area high schools. I didn’t fair nearly as well there, making just 13 out of 25 shots. At the end of this city-wide competition I got a red and gold ribbon, it simply said something like All-City participant on it.

I remember being so upset, partly because I hadn’t done so well but more so because I went to this competition and came home with a stupid ribbon. I threw it away as soon as I got home. I remember thinking, if everybody got one, then it’s not really that special of a thing to get.

This memory resurfaced earlier this week when social media was all a buzz because Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison made it known on Instagram that he would be sending his two son’s participation trophies back “until they earn a real trophy.”

Mr. Harrison, you are alright with me! I couldn’t agree more.

Trophies and awards should always be earned not given out as parting gifts. Simply handing trophies out for someone taking part in something is like a teacher giving “A’s” to every student that made it to his or her class. It doesn’t work that way.

There are very few things in life as treasured as a trophy that was truly earned through hard work, dedication, heartbreak, blood, sweat and tears. When you see a trophy on display you should know that whoever earned it busted their butt and sacrificed something important in order to receive it. Not simply paid an entrance fee.

When we give trophies, medals and ribbons away like door prizes we’re sending the entirely wrong message. We’re telling whoever is getting these items it’s OK if you don’t work as hard, don’t practice as hard or don’t give your all every time you step onto the field or court because you’re still going to get an award in the end.

This is just wrong. In reality we should live by the following motto: Trophies are for winners (and those who lose in championship games).

Trophies going to anyone other than a champion or someone who lost in a championship just shouldn’t happen.

Some may argue that for youth sports where score isn’t kept we should definitely give participation trophies for a sense of pride and accomplishment. I suppose giving a participation ribbon or an award would be fine here to a kid playing his first season or two if a sport, but definitely not a trophy. In fact I think the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote which hangs on the inspiration board in my 11-year old daughter’s bedroom says it best: “The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.”

The problem with our society these days is no one wants to be seen as a loser or a failure. No one wants to see their child lose or not succeed at something. But we can learn so much about ourselves from not winning all the time. The sooner our kids understand the fact that they’re not going to win at everything and not get rewarded for putting on a uniform the better off we all will be.

Everyone isn’t entitled to a trophy. Everyone doesn’t deserve a trophy. When we give them away for simply signing up to play or participate, we devalue the whole meaning and everything a trophy stands for.

Trophies are earned, not bought.

Chris Miles can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1618 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.

Chris Miles