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Column: The real trophy is confidence
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

My kid will probably not get a medal or a trophy today. But he will have run a 2K race in a regional cross country meet before you read this.

He is likely to finish in the top half, maybe even the top quarter of runners, but not the top 10, which is what gets recreation league cross country runners a medal.

I am OK with finishing a season of rec league sports without a trophy or medal. My hope is he will be as well. In any case, he should be proud of the work he has put in this first season.

The “participation trophy” trend has drawn fire in recent years and has been a topic of debate in this paper’s letters to the editor section in recent weeks following a parenting column by John Rosemond that included the advice, “Don’t allow your child to receive participation and ‘good sport’ trophies.”

Rosemond is a national parenting columnist this paper has published for years, and he has some good, old-fashioned advice that tends to be some version of don’t make your kid think he’s the center of the universe.

I can get on board with some of that and definitely with the idea of raising my kids to have grit, which was Rosemond’s larger point. 

But my problem with trophies is simpler: they’re junk. My parents had quite a collection of them at our house for everything from softball to piano to swimming. I know some of them were for actual achievement — a superior rating at a piano festival or a first place in a softball tournament. Personally, I didn’t need a piece of molded golden plastic to feel pride in my accomplishments. I did need my parents to be proud of me.

At the same time, I’m definitely not telling my kid he can’t have the same participation trophy everybody else on the team got. That’s a recipe for feeling less than, not developing grit.

Participating in sports, though, has helped both of my boys develop some grit and confidence. Our oldest has practiced hard twice a week, doing way more running than I am remotely interested in doing. And his race time last week was his best yet.

Our youngest meanwhile has shown up to tennis lessons, which at his age are just about developing the basic skills. There aren’t even matches. 

He didn’t get any medals or trophies, either, but he did get a boost in his self-esteem. Often he starts a sport on the sidelines, afraid to get out on the court or field at all. By the end of a season, it’s a different story. And I hope every time he faces fears that way, he gains confidence.

Kids may like the shiny medal or trophy, but what they need more are the lessons of grit and perseverance gained from sticking with a sport and the boost in confidence from excelling and improving at something. 

While some young kids think they’re the fastest or strongest, mine sometimes think the opposite. Getting an “attaboy” or fist bump from a coach is no small thing when you’re figuring out who you are. 

In the end, it’s not the material trophy that makes the difference, it’s the feeling of accomplishment earned with hard work and approval from trusted grown-ups.

And if one day either of my boys works hard enough to be the fastest in a race, that will be something worth celebrating. If they want to do that with a trophy, that is OK, too. 

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident. 

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