Along with my clothes, and other odds and ends, there were four athletic trophies packed in my car for the move here to Devils Lake. One, my 2001 track and field Most Valuable Player trophy from high school, didn’t survive the move and since been dumped in a landfill. Three other trophies, Most Improved (2001), Extra Effort Performance (2004) and Scholar-Athlete of the Year (2005) from my four years competing at UNC-Pembroke are wall decorations.
Those are four of nine athletic trophies I had collected over my lifetime. The other five are sitting in a corner in my mother’s house. They are irrelevant pieces that too will be trashed one day. They are participation trophies.
“I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best … cause sometimes your best is not enough and that should drive you to want to do better.”
Former Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison wrote those words in an Instagram post back in 2015 which since then has caused numerous debates about the merits of such awards given as roster bonuses. Doctor Jonathan Fader, a licensed performance psychologist wrote in a 2014 article that appeared on psychologytoday.com:
“In my opinion, trophies are a bad metric for winners and losers alike.” But he also wrote, “The people who denigrate these trophies are often bent on teaching their kids that life has “winners” and “losers,” but this can also be a tricky matter. The science suggests that we need to be praise our kids on process, not results.”
Fader continued, “Should we give our kids participation trophies? To be honest, it depends. As an unexpected surprise for someone’s unwavering dedication and effort – absolutely! As a meaningless gesture for just “showing up”—maybe not. Kids are smart, and they know that being handed a participation trophy isn’t the same as winning.”
Harrison definitely made me look at my trophy collection differently. As a kid, I wasn’t necessarily overly thrilled with getting trophies (I guess because they were expected?) just because I was on a baseball team but I did display them proudly. As an adult, those ‘just for showing up’ trophies are the ones that could be incinerated — thrown into the furnace like Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego — and I’ll have the pitchfork burying them deeper into the fire.
What brought this on?
The North Dakota High School Activities Association just wrapped up its 2018-19 high school winter sports season with six state tournaments. Each tournament, from boys and girls hockey to both girls and boys basketball, had consolation brackets. Consolation brackets are participation trophies on Nitrous.
Consolation brackets are losers brackets. The key word — LOSER.
Consolation brackets are … stupid. Yes, stupid. They are the ultimate ‘try to do better next time’ message that at this level need not apply. You can argue that consolation brackets teaches kids that you’re not a failure, that there is always tomorrow. OK but this is the one element of sport that doesn’t coincide with life. You lose … you’re done. Point. Blank. Period. Who really cares that you finish fifth? You don’t go into a season saying, ‘you know? A third place finish would be great.’ You go into a season chasing the ’ship and anything less than is meaningless.
The NDHSAA need to eliminate consolation brackets altogether, especially for basketball in which I have a solution for ‘The B,’ the pinnacle of NDHSAA’s winter sports season. Use a NCAA bracket format.Use a 16-team tournament format. Meaning, each region’s champion and runner-up qualifies. Seed the teams 1 thru 16. The first eight seeds would be the region champions. Nine thru 16 would be the runner-ups. In a bracket style, akin to the NCAA Tournament, 1 vs. 16, 8 vs. 9, 5 vs. 12 and 4 vs. 13 on the top half, 6 vs. 11, 3 vs. 14, 7 vs. 10 and 2 vs. 15 on the bottom half. The first round to be played at the highest seed’s campus thus teams are rewarded for winning their region by hosting a state tournament game.
From there, you’ll have the eight teams that’ll be competing for the Class B title at the MSU Dome. You win, you advance. You lose, you go home. Because at the end of the day, no one really cares that a school finished seventh. Because all that eighth place team was doing was just … participating.
Chris Harris can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter: @ChrisHarris_DLJ