It was a tough game. My daughters, who are playing soccer on their high school team, suffered their first loss. The team they had played was really good.
“They played hard,” I said.
“Great,” a friend said. “Now they all get a participation ribbon.”
To his credit, my friend was kidding (for the most part). But it certainly reminded me of the swirl of controversy James Harrison created when he forced his sons to return their “participation trophies.” His point was simple. They didn’t earn them. Sometimes you give your all and it isn’t good enough. Harrison’s point is, that should drive you to do better.
Before you think I am attacking this notion (or my friend), let me say that I agree with them. I DO think we are creating a sense of entitlement with some kids.
But as Paul Harvey would have said, “Here is the rest of the story…”
The game started with the other team looking clearly dominant. They worked the ball around the field in control, while our team ran like crazy to keep up. We went down 1-0. Then 2-0. At halftime we were down 3-0 to the better team.
After halftime it was more of the same. The other team scored again. Our girls were down 4-0 and I was afraid this contest might really get out of hand.
But then something happened. Our girls kept playing. They kept hustling. They kept trying–really trying–and we got a break.
One of our forwards burst through and pushed in a goal toward the open net! Goal! The energy changed for both teams, and we started the climb back.
Now, you know they lost. I told you that earlier. But the final score was 5-3 and the last 10 minutes was a REAL contest. I learned something about our team.
They had competed. They had hustled. They had not given up. In the face of sure defeat, they had battled. I don’t think they should get a trophy or a ribbon for it.
But if that is not the lesson we are trying to teach them through sports, what is?