Off The Top Of My Head: The Participation Trophy Generation

Something I noticed early in my sports writing days was a change in how games were approached among the young kids. At certain levels, the score was not kept. There were no winners, no losers and everyone got a participation trophy.

This was done, so they said, so that kids’ self-esteem would not be damaged by losing. Then came the mandatory “if the kid is on the team, the kid has to play at least a certain amount of time regardless of skill and ability” rules.

The kids were no longer being taught valuable life lessons in lieu of making them “feel good about themselves”. But by making everyone happy, those proponents of this approach were actually doing a huge disservice to the kids and to society.

Winning AND losing teach valuable lessons on the field that can be used off the field. Yes, winning is wonderful and the desired result at all times. I’ve enjoyed my fair share of on-field and off-field wins. There is nothing like that feeling of victory.

And yes, losing sucks. I’ve had my fair share of defeats in sports and in life. It isn’t fun to go through. But here’s the thing. Losing can teach you a whole lot more than winning does. And those particular lessons come in very handy off the field of play.

I was taught, by my father and several coaches, to win and lose with the same grace and dignity. I was also taught to use those losses as motivation to improve my own abilities and efforts in order to emerge victorious the next time. And trust me, after each defeat suffered I came back the next time highly motivated to do better. And more often than not, I did better and collected more victories than losses.

I was not taught to blame the other side for my inability to win the day/game/contest. Nor was I taught to constantly attack the winner endlessly simply because they bested me on the field of play. It was up to me to win by getting better, and not chasing my opponent off the field of play with underhanded attacks.

But what happens when you aren’t taught those early lessons? We see it today in the way this generation is handling losing. Back in 2016 this Participation Trophy generation suffered its first loss in a Presidential election here in the U.S. And what have they done for the last two years since?

Throw a temper tantrum that would make 22-year-old John McEnroe blush, that’s what.

They’ve marched in the streets at the drop of a pussy hat and for reasons of cosmic insignificance. They’ve taken to confronting officials who are out to dinner with family long after the office doors have closed, chasing them out of restaurants and events. They are viciously slandering innocent people with outright lies.

They are stomping their feet and whining and wailing over a loss suffered two years ago with all of the gusto of an eight-month-old child that just had its binky taken away. Actually, I should apologize to all of the eight-month-old children I just insulted. They at least have an excuse for their behavior. They just haven’t learned how to behave yet.

These 20-30 somethings don’t have that excuse. They really should know better.

I do recall, way back when this feel-good, participation trophy horse-hockey was originally introduced, many of us actually warned that this would be the end result. Well, let me qualify that. I think we knew it would not end well. We just didn’t know it would be this big of a charlie-foxtrot.

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