A view from my side.
We live in a competitive world. In the United States, that is especially true. If you want to succeed at something, you have to be better than someone else. You have to work at it. You have to try hard. You have to devote time, effort and energy into whatever you are doing to make people stand up and notice. Even so, there is no guarantee you will be successful. There is also a certain amount of talent involved. And talent, you either have or you don’t.
As a teacher and a coach, I have noticed a change in expectations over the years. Many students and players expect a high standard of achievement with minimal effort. If they turn in the paper, they expect an A. If they show up to practice, they expect to play. Their expectation is fueled by their parents attitudes that their child can do anything if they set their mind to it. Johnny and Jill have been conditioned to expect honors and awards for as long as they can remember. I mean, seriously, Pre-K “graduation” ceremonies?
I understand mom/dad want their little bundle of joy to feel good about themselves. I get that. But to award them with lavish ceremonies, plaques, trophies and awards for simply participating does them a huge disservice later in life. It sets in the young child’s mind an unrealistic expectation: if I show up and participate, I get an award. They see everyone getting the same award regardless of the level of actual achievement attained. So they learn to show up, put forth some effort and expect equal rewards with everyone else.
By the time they reach 14, these kids have a sense of entitlement. They are entitled to play. They are entitled to a good grade. They are entitled to recognition. When they don’t get it, they don’t know how to react. They’ve never (or rarely) been denied it in the past and they have a hard time dealing with it now. In their desire to give their child a sense of self-worth, mom/dad have instead created a child that has never experienced failure.
Failure is a great teacher. To fail at something can be hugely disappointing. It can hurt so bad it will bring people to tears. Failure will cull the herd as those not good enough, smart enough, strong enough, fast enough, or willing to work hard enough fall to the wayside. Failure teaches you what to do differently. You have to fall off the bicycle a few times in order to learn how to stay upright. Failing at a single attempt is not failing at life. In the grand scheme of things, failure is as vital to high levels of achievement as is the hard work and the effort required to excel.
We should hold the accolades and the trophies for those whose level of achievement is truly worthy. Set the bar so high that only a handful earn the honor. A 4 year old does not need a cap/gown ceremony with balloons and cake. Give the players a t-shirt or a ribbon for participating and hold the trophy or the medallion for the winner. Sure there will be tears and disappointment along the way. Let those be a motivator to work harder and put forth more effort. Or, let those be the realization that maybe, just maybe, I’m in over my head and need to step down a level. Sometimes you have to admit to yourself that you are simply not good enough, talented enough, smart enough to achieve at the level you desire.
Why is the Lombardi Trophy so special? Why is the World Cup Trophy so great? Why is the title, “World Champion” held in such high regard? Because not everyone gets to hold those trophies over their heads and call themselves great. Because it takes hard work, effort and talent to achieve them. You cannot take talent out of the equation of achievement. Despite all of my effort, despite all of my hard work, despite all of my desire…I was not talented enough to play professional athletics.
It can be a hard lesson, but it is one that must be taught. Creating generations of people with this sense of entitlement will have a huge effect on our society as well. It will widen the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. It will create resentment and envy. It will be destructive and divisive. We can’t have it both ways. The tears of failure are better shed while young so the lessons of hard work and effort have a chance to take hold and do their job.
I believe that not everyone should get a trophy.