When my older children were in grade school, they each participated in recreational sports. These were the type of teams that were not always competitive, but had mom’s who bought granola bars and juice boxes for after the game, orange slices for half time, and trophies at the end of each season.
I was a supreme annoyance to these well-intentioned parents. I was the mom who questioned why we stressed ourselves out to supply all these extra treats. I frequently announced that my children were quite capable of going ninety minutes without food, and at the end of the season, I was the mom who refused to spend $6.95 for a plastic trophy made in China.
I am not a fan of the everyone’s-a-winner mentality. It’s not that I don’t believe everyone has talent and that we should all be free to pursue our own genius, it is just that I don’t believe a bobble-head baseball trophy given to a seven-year-old is going to fundamentally change her self-esteem. It is consumption for the sake of consumption; it is one more meaningless thing to clutter your home and clog up your life. The mere suggestion that a second grader needs a trophy to help build her self-esteem is offensive and insulting.
I always warned my kids that the trophies were coming. I reminded them that they wouldn’t be getting one, explained why, and then we practiced complimenting the other kids on the trophies they would receive, “Wow, that is a really nice looking trophy. Good job!” Neither of my kids ever once complained about this. Neither ever cried over the decision, and they never begged to have a trophy of their own. The other parents thought I was heartless, but my own children never cared about their lack of a trophy shelf. If a parent questioned me I would say, “We are holding out until they actually earn one.”
I recently read an article about self esteem. The article discusses our addiction to compliments and outlines how we place a premium on self worth. Brad Bushman, Ph.D., a communications professor at Ohio State University, researched our need for constant affirmation and declared, “ All that time spent thinking about yourself not only contributes to depression, but it makes society a less kind and gentle place,”
I feel vindicated. Maybe my no-trophy rule helped my kids step outside of themselves for one minute. Maybe it taught them that win or lose, playing the game is the reward, not the end-of-the-season party or the fake, plastic praise.