We live in a trophy culture.The Heisman Trophy. The Lombardi Trophy. Trophy Club. Trophy wives.And it’s not just a New Age, self-esteem, every-kid-a-winner phenomenon. Even in the ’60s, when I was playing Little League Baseball, every boy got a trophy at the end of the season.Where those trophies are today, I have only a vague and dusty idea. Let me suggest, however, that kids have been yawning at the practice of receiving a participation trophy for the better part of 40 years.The recent announcement by Keller Youth Association’s football program that it was abandoning its tradition of awarding participation trophies has attracted national attention — mostly applause. Trophies are supposed to be for winners, the argument goes. Kids, as the no-trophy crowd preaches, have to learn that you don’t earn anything in life just by showing up.That lesson may not stand up to real-life scrutiny, of course. But we’re talking about trophies and kids, not adults and paychecks.Most youngsters’ fascination with a trophy that they receive just for playing youth football or baseball wanes as quickly as the next season arrives. Kids at that age don’t need mementos. Their uniform jersey is usually enough. They are more entertained by immediate baubles and collectibles.Throw them a party or a picnic. Call the local teams and see if Rowdy or Mavs Man can show up. Kids will remember that long after they’ve forgotten where Mom put that soccer trophy.Young people know who won and who lost, despite the best efforts of the every-kid-a-winner cult. For whatever reason, winning and its alleged evil twin, competitiveness, have become modern day symptoms of alleged bad parenting.The continuing erosion of sportsmanship is a problem. But there is nothing shameful about finishing first. The winners should get the trophies. Youngsters, whether it’s on the playing field or in the classroom, should strive to be one of those trophy winners. That’s the simple lesson to teach your kids.Competition is a part of everyday life. Parents would be wise to instruct their children on how to handle winning as well as losing. There will be a lot of both in their lives.Yet, we’ve all heard stories about the youth leagues with no scoreboards, no winners, no losers. Talk about throwing the baby out with the Gatorade bucket.I’ve yet to see a 60 Minutes report about a troubled soul whose life was scarred because he once played on a last-place 10-year-old football team. Turning off the scoreboard, I might argue, is a trite gesture more for the parents’ benefit than the young players’. We don’t want to see our kids fail. But what larger lesson do they learn if we shelter them from it?I’m a fan of soccer. I’m also a baseball fan. The public’s current perception is that the latter’s popularity has waned, in part because of the rise of youth soccer.Maybe so. But I would argue that it’s that self-esteem issue again. Baseball by nature is filled with one-on-one moments — batter versus pitcher, base runner versus catcher, outfielder versus fly ball. All potential failure moments. Moms (and many dads, too) can’t bear to watch. So they head for the soccer fields, where those one-on-one moments are minimized and the games tend to resemble moving scrums. What about teaching kids to rise to the moment? Embrace the challenge. Make that important tackle. Get a 700 on that math SAT.The KYA folks have the right idea. Life is filled with trophies. Let the winners earn them.There are scoreboards everywhere in life. Kids — and their parents — shouldn’t be afraid of them.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton