When Everybody Wins, Everybody Loses

John Steigerwald Contributor
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Good for James Harrison.

But before we nominate him for Father of the Century as a result of his stance on participation trophies for kids, let’s remember he was arrested in 2008 for hitting his girlfriend.

Charges were eventually dropped when he agreed to enter domestic abuse counseling.

Harrison, a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, made national news last week when he posted this on Instagram: “I came to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing. Participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them until the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry, I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned…”

As it turned out, the trophies, from former Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch’s Best of the Batch Foundation, weren’t technically participation trophies, which is good for the Best of the Batch Foundation. But Harrison’s comments, justified in this case or not, were valuable because they drew attention to a disturbing trend in American culture.

HBO’s Real Sports devoted a segment to it this month that included lots of comments from youth coaches and officials supporting the idea of giving a kid a trophy for showing up.

The segment also included examples of huge increases in sales for trophy companies.

Is this a great country, or what?

The “Everybody Gets a Trophy” movement is most likely a result of the self-esteem movement in schools that began in the 1970s and eventually led to schools eliminating just about everything that could potentially damage a kid’s self-esteem.

It gave us soccer “matches” and baseball “games” with no scores and high school graduation ceremonies with 20 valedictorians.

What’s really disturbing and a little scary is that so many educators and coaches could be unaware that giving nobody a trophy would be better than giving everybody one.

The value of a trophy is directly related to the number of them given out. If everybody gets one, they are all worthless.

And how could so many supposedly smart people not realize that, by not singling out individual performances, they are denying kids an opportunity to get a large jolt of positive self-esteem by being honored as the best at something?

And if you are constantly giving kids praise and rewards for doing nothing but showing up, why wouldn’t they become cynical about all praise and awards?

New York Magazine, in an article written eight years ago called, “How Not to Talk to Your Kids,” cited psychologist Wulf-Uwe Meyer on the subject.

Meyer did a series of studies of kids watching other kids receiving praise.

He determined that, by the age of 12, kids believe that earning praise from a teacher is not a sign that you did well – it’s actually a sign that you lack ability and the teacher thinks you need extra encouragement.

Why would it be any different with kids and coaches?

And trophies?

Participation trophies may be the result of misguided self-esteem programs in schools but it may not be that complicated. It still comes to kids being over-organized and too much parental involvement.

How have adults devolved to the level of stupidity that they would believe it’s a good idea to put baseball uniforms on four and five year olds and expect them to be able to play anything that resembles the game of baseball?

Maybe it’s time for adults to realize that baseball, football, basketball, soccer and hockey are not kids’ games.

Major League Baseball players like to tell you that they’re lucky to be getting paid big bucks for “Playing a kid’s game.”

They’re not. Baseball was invented by a man to be played by men.

Maybe the kids shouldn’t be playing on an organized team until they’re old enough to understand the concept of winning, losing and being singled out as the best.

Pittsburgh ex-TV sportscaster, columnist and talk show host John Steigerwald is the author of the Pittsburgh sports memoir, “Just Watch The Game.” Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast at pittsburghpodcastnetwork.com

John Steigerwald