When I was in middle school, I tried out for every single sports team and didn’t get on any. Ever. Basketball, soccer, volleyball, track and field, you name it, I tried out for it. Truthfully, I sucked at most sports and yet in grades 6 and 7, I tried out for every team, knowing deep down that I wasn’t good enough to be on any of the teams. So why did I put myself through this torture? Because I really, really, wanted to be recognized as “good” at something and I’d secretly hoped that the coaches would take pity on me and place me on a team because of all my effort. But no, that never happened, and in grade 8, I gave up my dream of being a jock and focused on something I was good at: getting excellent grades.
I kept this rather embarrassing girlhood experience to myself until a colleague forwarded me the results of a poll from outspoken website, Reason.com, about the correlation between people’s stance on the “which kids should get a trophy” debate and income. As you may have suspected, people who make more money generally tend to believe that only the winning kids deserve to receive a trophy (this subset of people also have specific political inclinations, but that’s a different article altogether). As age, education and income increases, the support for participation trophies decline. For example, the majority (55%) of those making less than $30,000 a year want all kids to get trophies whereas most (a significant 72%) of those making $90,000 or more want only the winners to receive trophies. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this could be due to “successful” (as defined by income) people understanding that those who are the best in their chosen professions will be rewarded accordingly—that’s the reality.
I get it.
In grade 8, when I decided to hang up my barely-used cleats for good, I learned a valuable lesson: in sports, only the best succeed, and they weren’t about to put me on the volleyball team and jeopardize their top position in our district. Instead, I looked at my own unique skills and decided concentrate my efforts on winning at things I’m actually good at. At the tender age of 13, I also realized that in general, it’s a waste of time to expect being rewarded and patted on the head just for showing up, and as I became an adult, I observed that it’s this attitude that separates the successful from the mediocre.
In real life, there are no participation trophies, so I recommend looking at what unique gifts and talents you bring to the table, and leverage them to take your career to the next level, find success, or to simply just “win”.
In related news, watch this Little League coach’s inspirational speech to the team on why it’s important to play and okay to lose: