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The Problem with Participation Trophies

George Grombacher October 5, 2023

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The Problem with Participation Trophies

Is self esteem a good thing? Could simply having it result in better outcomes? Where did the idea of participation trophies come from in the first place? 

George talks about why and how the only way to feel accomplished is by accomplishing something. 

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George Grombacher

Episode Transcript

sports have always played a very, very near and dear or had a very near and dear place in my heart athletics. Like so many of us, so many people that played sports or competed at something, really anything, as young person or even as an adult in life. I think that we all know that it’s a wonderful teacher. It gives us humility, when we get our butts, kicked or our asses handed to us. It gives us elation, and just a feeling of amazing accomplishment when we succeed and we win. It gives us a sense of camaraderie and teamwork, working with other people. It helps us to overcome adversity, it helps us to realize our limitations and figure out how to push past those helps us to, to learn how to get better, how to work hard, how to focus. And these are obviously from my perspective, really, really, really important skills, that if we did not have sports, or competition, or any kind of an endeavor, where you are working to improve, I don’t care if you are in the symphony orchestra, if you’re in the theater, or if you’re playing chess, or if you are competing in a spelling bee, or if you’re playing tennis, it doesn’t matter to me, because the principles and the lessons that are available to you through sport in open competition are incredible. They’re unmatched. And I do not believe that you can engineer or I think that that’s the right term, I don’t think that you can just engineer it. No matter how much you want to No matter how much you want kids, young people to feel a sense of fairness, and a sense of accomplishment. I want everybody to feel good about themselves. I want people to realize and recognize that you are worthy person that you are, you are worthy of feeling as great about yourself as you possibly can. But you don’t just get that you’re not entitled to it, it requires work. You must put the work in to get that stuff, to get the good stuff, to have things worthwhile to feel accomplished. You must accomplish something good. I think that that’s missed on a lot of people that’s lost and a lot of people to feel accomplished, you must accomplish something that’s about as basic and common sense as it gets. But that’s, that’s not where we’re at. Briefly about me, sporting competition has just had so much value over the course of my life. I grew up in northern Minnesota where everybody played hockey. And my mom did an awesome job raising my brother and I and she was a single mom. So there was no hockey dad to do a lot of things that hockey dads do. It didn’t play hockey. I played for a while. But I really happened into to find my place with tennis. And I found it to be so wonderful because it wasn’t there weren’t a lot of people in northern Minnesota playing tennis. Shocker. But there were no hockey moms or hockey dads. There were no politics. There was no judge with their scoring system. There was just there were no it wasn’t my kids get to play because I don’t like your kid, whatever. None of that it was your show up. You enter the tournament, which is an open competition. You play your match, and you win or you lose. If you win, you get to do it again. To keep winning you win the whole thing. There’s no sentiment no feelings, you win or lose. And I just thought this is amazing. John went on to be a very, very successful tennis player played at the collegiate level Division One scholarship winner. That’s where I’m coming from today. I identify as a competitor I identify as an athlete, I’ll be 45 this month, and I still everything. Some of the many of the lessons that sport when I was a little boy, tennis taught me has benefited me through my tie Airlife So, when, when I see that, that is trying to be shortcutted, or people try to run an end around, and just give people to try to give people those feelings without earning it, it’s just not going to work. It’s it is your, it’s just not gonna work. I guess that’s kind of the fundamental thing. Simple, it will not work. And it’s going to have negative and far reaching effects that I think that from my perspective, and maybe yours, as you look around society, and you see the way that we’re behaving, you can probably point to this whole self esteem movement, participation, trophies, and all this other nonsense that we’ve been shoving voice team on young people and the chickens come home to roost. So competition sport. endeavoring to improve upon something, teach you so many things, teaches you how to set goals and work towards them, it teaches you how to deal with adversity, how to get better, I’ve been gritty, like I talked about, it teaches you habits. It teaches you all of these wonderful things, it teaches you how to get good at something. When you do these things, amazing things happen. You realize your capabilities, you realize I’m really good at this. And I’m not so good at this. But I think I could get good at that if I worked my butt off. If I work hard. If I commit, put in the time and effort, I will reap the rewards of it. And those rewards are maybe a trophy, maybe great friendships and teammates, a sense of accomplishment because you accomplish something. confidence and self esteem. That’s where self esteem comes from. doesn’t come from somebody telling me that I should have self esteem. Self esteem comes from myself. from accomplishing things, working hard in service of a greater goal, doing what it takes to get there to make that happen. That’s where it comes from. So there it is the self esteem. What do you think about that term? What do you think about self esteem? I remember that offspring song. I think it was called self esteem. That was literally the first time when I heard that song. I didn’t know what that term was. Maybe that was more on, you could look back to the year that it was released. I’m like what is self esteem? I honestly had no idea what it was. And it was in junior high or high school. And I just didn’t know what that was. Somebody had to explain it to me like, oh, it’s kind of like the first time somebody explained mindfulness to me, like, well, that’s the most obvious thing in the world. So I’m just aware of what I’m thinking about the one that I’m aware of my actions and how it impacts other people in the world. Oh, there you go. Self esteem. And I think that, like I’ve been talking about so many of us, a lot of us a huge chunk of society, if not, the majority are just getting it all wrong. Again, I believe self esteem comes from achievement. Other people believe that self esteem leads to achievement. Again, I believe self esteem comes from achievement. Other people believe that having self esteem will lead to achievement. So it’s really It’s chicken to the egg. which one comes first? which one comes first? Where did self esteem come from? Where did the self esteem movement come from? Believe it or not, you’re not going to believe this came from California. You can look it up 1986 the California Legislature created a self esteem Task Force and funded it with over $250,000 That was a lot of money back then. The whole theory was that increasing self esteem in a child will lead to increased performance, better grades, better classroom attendance, all of it. Right? Today blossoms it’s blossomed into a literally a billion dollar industry. And it has infiltrated and affected and infected schools, other institutions, and it’s given us participation trophies. And, I mean, I mean a participation trophy. It’s a punch line. But it’s a thing. So why am I talking about it? Well, I’m glad you asked. Because while I’ve certainly been aware of the existence of

participation trophies for years and years and years I got to see it firsthand a couple of weeks ago. Now, lucky me. Finally, finally, my kids soccer game. I want all of my kids to grow up to be very, very independent, self confident, self assured, young people that grew up to be great, productive adults. So support them in whatever they want to play. So my oldest said, I want to play soccer. So great, let’s do that got him signed up at the soccer league, get to the end of the first game, and they didn’t have a coach. So it was a young guy who was sort of running everything and get the end of the game, we got our butts kicked. And he gathers everybody around and outcome. But participation medals, everybody got a medal, I almost threw him threw up, my mouth has like, you gotta be effing kidding me. I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know. Didn’t know that we were going to do this. Like, oh, my God, look at my wife, she just knew that this was going to make my head explode that fine. Take your metal, they’re happy about it, all the kids were happy about it. Who doesn’t like metals. Kids are like, four, five and six years old. So they’re looking at it, they’re super happy about the ribbon, and the metal and everything else, who’s spent a lot of time talking about it, and what competition is and everything else. And I’m sure that my son loved it. But anyway, next game, since I saw that there was no coach, and I look for opportunities. And when I see an opportunity, I take responsibility, and I step up, so I became the coach. So now I’m coach the team, trying to do a good job, told you as a tennis player, I know enough about soccer, probably don’t know anything about soccer. Anyway, had a strategy, put it to work. And it was going just fine. And actually the same team were playing the same team, and they’re just better team than we were, they were winning. And about a third of the way through the game. I think that there were six kids on the field at once or whatever the referee comes over and says we need you need to take one of your kids out. And we had an extra kid. So we already had to have one kid sitting out and having kids rotate in and out. So he comes in he says, well, we need to take one of your kids out. I said why? Said because they’re they will because one of their kids is going to be sitting and I yelled over to the other coach. I’m like, Why? Why is one of your kids out? And she responds and says they’re tired. Like really? That, okay? And I said, Well, that’s not, it’s not. And she said it’s not fair that you have six and we have five, two, which I obviously respect what’s not fair, I’ve got you know, all these I’ve got another child that is wanting to play but cannot and now you’re going to make another one of my players not play. That’s not fair. That’s not fair. You’re not allowing them to get out and compete. And steal bla bla bla bla bison, what about, you know, just turn the jersey inside out, and my kid can go play on your kids team? Or your team? So yeah, I guess we could do that. Is that the other thing? Just like what’s going on here? Anyway, head exploding, trying to get it done. And at the end of it, I mean, they were better than we are. So this isn’t and that’s really irrelevant. It’s not about winning or losing, we were losing. It’s all about just competing. It’s all about whether you’re winning or you’re losing, give me not giving it your best. So there’s so much weird stuff going on between people’s ears and in sports and youth sports. So I was curious, like, Okay, I want to spend some time thinking about this, what is going on with participation trophies, I got into the self esteem movement that I talked about California, this, that new thing, and now it’s everywhere. So it’s not just California and California is great. I’m not big into California, even though I’m big into California. But I asked Chet GPT the wealth of all knowledge in the universe, what the benefit of participation trophies were. And it told me that the idea was to acknowledge and celebrate the effort and commitment of all participants rather than just those who come in first place. The idea was to boost self esteem, which I already mentioned, to encourage participation. So, figured that if you’re going to get a medal that you’re going to help people participate. Fostering a positive attitude can help cultivate a positive attitude toward competition and sportsmanship. It’s not just about winning, but enjoying the experience. Okay. teaching life skills participate patient trophies can teach important life skills such as teamwork, dedication, perseverance and the value of effort. Not so sure about that. Reducing pressure. Presence of participation trophies can reduce the intense pressure and stress sometimes come with competitive sports, especially for children. This can help create a more enjoyable and less anxiety inducing environment for tippet participants. Do you think that that’s a benefit? I think you’re nuts. That is the opposite of what sport is designed to do. You can go play on the playground. Go do that. Go play a game a tag. We don’t need to put an entire league together to accomplish that inclusivity participation, and I don’t I put in my values on Chet GPT his answer? I should just read it. This trip participation trophies promote inclusivity by recognizing all efforts. This is important in new sports learning developing rather than winning at all costs. It’s clear who the good players are, get out of here. So then I tax Chappie judge GBT, what are the arguments against them? She said, he said, it said, Why am I making it a gendering it. Who knows? Weirdo participation trophies have there? That’s a whole nother conversation, what gender is GPT n is okay to ask that. And that’s for sure me putting my values on a computer program or an artificial intelligence anyway. Back to what the benefits are? Or rather the arguments against diminishing the value of achievement? Yes, it 100% Does that undermining competitiveness? Yes. It does that as well. Reducing incentive to improve? Yikes. Wow. Yeah. You Yikes. That’s huge. Fostering unrealistic expectations. Ah, yeah. By the way, in your soccer game today, Timmy and Tiffany, Aiden, and Bailey, you’re gonna get a trophy. But when you’re growing up? Probably not going to work out that way. Unless, of course, everything just continues going the direction it’s going. And then I don’t know what I’m talking about. And I’m a dinosaur. diminishing the meaning of winning? Yep. For sure. Not preparing for failure. Yes. distorting the concept of merit. Yeah, for sure. 100%. Okay.

I would like to, I would like to sit down and talk with somebody about this. Have a, an open and honest, really genuine conversation with somebody who wants to who would be willing to explain to me the value of participation trophies, and taking it all out to its logical conclusion. Like, if this is what we want. And this is now a 60 year old person, with his five year old who just gave a participation trophy to and gave them engineered self esteem, which I don’t think he can do. But let’s assume that you did. And then play that out over the next 55 years of their life, just as call it the next 60 years of their life, their their essentially, student life and professional life versus the opposite, which which is going to be better. I don’t think we’re probably what. But halfway through that experiment, we’re about halfway through that experiment, if it was in 1985, or whatever it was in California where this taskforce began. So that was, what 15 years ago to 2000 and then now add 23 years, so 38 coming on 40 years. So yeah, here we are. That’s interesting. This is worth exploring a little bit more in closing here. Have you seen this help wanted ad from Ernest Shackleton. And what Ernest Shackleton was going to do he was going to go on this Arctic expedition. And he put this ad in the paper. Here it is. Men wanted for hazardous journey, low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness, safe return, doubtful, honor and recognition in event of success. Who in the world would apply for that? Well, turns out over 5000 Men responded to that want to add right there. Over 5000 Literally serendipitously talking yesterday morning with a graduate of West Point, which is the Military Academy is an art he went on to become an army re Danger. And now he’s a business owner. I asked him about the Armed Forces recruiting, just how it’s going. And he told me that the Marines have never had a problem with recruitment. They said, they tell you straight up, this is going to be the hardest thing that you’re ever going to do. And that’s what drew him to surface, the desire to push and to challenge himself and to test his limits. If you think that participation, trophies are a good idea, you don’t think that way. From my perspective, your problem is that you think everybody else thinks and feel the same way. You do. But they don’t. There are plenty of people out there want to be challenged, and want to push themselves past their limits. They want to figure out what they’re really capable of doing. And they want to do really hard things. And they want to do those really hard things all the time. So moving forward, I would be grateful. If you kept your participation trophies away from my kids. We’ll get a trophy if we win, or we won’t, and we’ll get some ice cream on the way home. Do your part by doing your best

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