In the small town that I grew up in, little league baseball was pretty much the only option for athletics until around age twelve.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t exactly a baseball prodigy. I spent my first two or three years deep in right field, hoping the ball wouldn’t be hit my way. I’m not sure if there is a written record of the most strike outs in league history, but if there is, there is a better than even chance that my name is on it.
It never stopped me from getting back out there. I enjoyed the game, the camaraderie, and the challenge of improving. Every year I received a trophy for participation, and I displayed them proudly. I wasn’t playing well, but dammit I was out there playing.
By age ten or so I starting smacking doubles pretty consistently and found that I had a knack for pitching. If not a knack, exactly, than a quick release, a sidearm delivery and a penchant for wildness that combined to confuse and intimidate hitters. I even made an all-star team, though I missed the game due to a bad case of poison ivy. In those days I found a way to nerd up even the most un-nerdy of activities.
Somewhere around twelve years old the trophies stop coming just for showing up. There are try outs, travel teams for the more talented players, and increased levels of competition. This is when I called it a career.
To the teenager’s credit, she continues to play soccer, now in a relaxed atmosphere co-ed spring league. She’s no longer the star that she was when she was younger, but it’s good exercise and she enjoys playing. There are no trophies, nor is she looking for one.
Her little sister seems to be following in her footsteps. This weekend she started her third session of soccer lessons and loves every minute of it. She works hard, listens to her coaches, and practices at home. It’s been really fun to watch. At the end she’ll receive a little plastic medal and will be thrilled. It will sit on her dresser as a testament not only to her participation, but to her effort. She’ll have not played anything remotely competitive yet, but she’ll have another “trophy.” And I’m OK with that.
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison made headlines last month for returning his two son’s participation trophies, saying that “everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best.”
I’ve also been known to rant against the entitlement culture that children of today are growing up in. There is an entire generation unprepared for the real world because they never had to earn or work hard for anything. The desire to encourage self esteem has also managed to stifle the competitive spirit needed to get ahead in life. When I first heard this story I thought it might be the first time in James Harrison’s thirteen year career that I agreed with something that came out of his loud mouth.
But then I saw that the boys in question were six and eight years old and I went back to thinking he was just a tool.
There does come a time when we need to stop coddling our children. They do need to understand and accept that there are going to be times when their best isn’t going to be good enough. Other times when it’s only with hard work and sacrifice that they are going to be rewarded.
There are also going to be times when effort and participation should be enough. Times when getting active and learning a game should be the primary goal. I’ll do my best to prepare my daughter for the competitive world in her future, but for now I’m content to let her have fun. I didn’t turn out to be the next Roger Clemons. She may not be the next Carli Lloyd.
She also might be. I’m not planning on spoiling that dream anytime soon.