Much has been said about the trophy situation in youth soccer. There are many organizations out there that provide trophies or medals for every single participant. Sometimes it’s only up to a certain age, other times it’s every age group. Then there are those who have openly spoken against trophies for participation and only want awards for kids who have actually won a competition.
But here’s something almost no one is saying: trophies are irrelevant. They don’t matter, win or participate. Here’s why:
1. Kids don’t care about trophies
Even the six-year olds - scratch that - especially the six-year olds don’t care about trophies or medals. They just love to play! If all a six-year old received for signing up for soccer was the opportunity to go outside and play with some other kids and a great coach twice a week for eight weeks, she would be ecstatic! These children don’t think about trophies or medals. Sure, if we said “Hey Sally, you get a medal” would she be excited? Yes… for about 10 seconds. Then she would immediately forget about it and want to go play some more. The only reason she got excited about the medal (for ten seconds) was because we mentioned it. Had there been no award whatsoever, she would not have been disappointed at all. Kids don’t care about trophies. They care about the experience.
2. Trophies are for the adults
Who are the trophies really for? The parents. And Grandma. Sometimes the coaches. As mentioned, Sally couldn’t care less about her medal. But guess who does: mom. Mom wants to take a picture of Sally with her medal around her neck and send it to Grandma to put on the refrigerator. That’s it! But to be honest, Grandma probably doesn’t care either – she just wants a picture of her grandchild – medal or not. Not to mention that Grandpa will probably go on a rant about how everyone these days is soft for getting participation medals… save him – and yourself – the exhaustion and omit the medals altogether. That’s why they have school photos – the uncontroversial refrigerator picture. And to make it clear, although parents like the medals, remember: youth soccer is not about the adults. It’s about the kids. We are here to serve them. So let’s not waste the time and money with the whole medal and trophy thing.
3. True competitors don’t want awards
For those on the “trophies are only for winners” side of the argument, here’s a truth: true competitors really don’t care about trophies. If we are doing our job right, we will develop kids who love to compete and get better. These kinds of kids don’t care about trophies. They care about improvement and the actual act of competing. They don’t need a medal or trophy to remind them of that one time they won their U10 league or the one weekend where they had to play six exhausting games in two days at a tournament. They’ll remember the lessons learned and the feeling of victory (and the lack of feeling in their legs). And as they continue to compete and improve over the years – and thus win more competitions – all these become less and less meaningful, as they are always looking forward to the next opportunity, rather than looking back at previous ones.
4. Only the exceptional matter
Exceptional awards, that is. There are some rare, specific circumstances when trophies become meaningful to young players. Yes, the very first earned (A.K.A. “won”) trophy is meaningful. But only for a short time – in the long-term, it usually becomes meaningless as kids play more and more (see point #3 above). However, there are a few trophies that have lasting significance to our players. These are the ones that few people will ever earn – the ones earned for performance in truly meaningful, major competitions. So again – not youth leagues or weekend tournaments. The trophies with lasting significance are state, regional, or national championships at older age groups (approximately U16 and up). High school state championships. College conference or national championships. Professional competitions. These are results of consistent, long-term hard work. They are victories that very few people achieve, and they are earned by playing against other high-level, dedicated competitors. And they have come after many years of competing and improving.
So the next time it comes to purchasing or receiving participation awards, or trophies for small competitions, give it a second thought: Are these awards relevant? Are they meaningful to the children? How would the children feel if they did not receive a shiny piece of plastic?
And consider the one truly significant aspect of these awards – the forever underlying and unwavering truth: these babies cost money. Are they worth it? Or could eliminating them be one way to cut the cost of the ever-increasing price to play youth soccer?