April 01, 2021

I grew up in an era when you either won or lost.  Trophies were awarded to first or second place and medals tended to be given to the top three finishers.  That began to slip after I got out of competition and stretched out to the top six finishers in running and similar competitions.  Now it has become the norm to provide participation trophies to everyone who competes, win, or lose.  While I do think it is important to acknowledge everyone who succeeded in completing a race or completion, I believe it is just as important to recognize the effort it takes for those who win.  That is why they call it competition.

I remember during the late 1970’s and 1980’s when they started breaking runners into age groups to award medals.  My dad once raced in a local competition when he finished second in his age class behind the track great Jim Ryun.  Ryun is an American Olympic track and field athlete, who at his peak was widely considered the world’s top middle-distance runner.  He won a silver medal in the 1500 m at the 1968 Summer Olympics and was the first high school athlete to run a mile in under four minutes.  He is the last American to hold the world record in the mile run.  My dad received the second-place medal in the 60+ division.  He always admitted as impressive as this sounds, there were only two entrants in that age group.

Psychologists say the biggest argument against participation trophies is that they are a form of protection.  We hand out trophies to kids, no matter how poorly they perform, so they do not feel bad about losing.  That means they never get the chance to experience failure, or to learn from it.  They grow up feeling entitled to rewards for simply showing up.  The best defense of participation trophies is the evidence in child psychology reveals the overwhelming benefits of positive reinforcement in young children.  Giving children a reward for their efforts is great because it shows them the value of being present, working hard, and contributing to a team.  They are shown how good it is to be reliable, and how important the effort of every person is, no matter if it leads to a victory or a loss.  Personally, I am disappointed when someone calls my effort a moral victory when I came in second.

Thoughts:  Despite my feelings about being second, I admit that I was happy to receive my second shot of the vaccine this week.  I had heard the symptoms would magnify with the second shot, but they did not with me.  I had less side effects with the second shot than I did with the first.  Perhaps what we need to emphasize is that regardless of whether you win or lose by getting the shot, you are being rewarded for participating.  Your participation also protects those around you.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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