Confession: I had a pretty trophy-heavy childhood. From swimming to beauty pageants to t-ball (ok, I played for one season and stood in the outfield the entire time with my glove resting on top of my head for “shade,”), everything was a competition. By the time 17 years of living under my parents roof was up, my bedroom shelves were adorned with many “participation trophies,” a noticeably bigger “most improved” plaque, the occasional second or third place award, and even two huge first place monstrosities won for being the very “best” at whatever it was I happened to be competing in at the time. I was so proud of those. And on the flip side, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the small participation trophies, other than to contemplate how they balanced out the shelf as a whole. Should my stuffed Garfield collection go above or below the trophy shelf, or should I splice the smaller Garfields in between some of the trophies for a comedic effect? I spent hours contemplating this.
So back to the sadly misunderstood “participation trophies.” They were like 6 inches tall at best. They did not as I recall, say “winner,” like the ones you got when you really DID win, those 7 foot tall monstrosities you had to put on the floor because they barely fit in your room, much less an actual shelf. It was painfully obvious that participation trophies were just, ahem, slightly different, and no kid has ever felt special for getting one. But what we did feel was a tiny bit of gratitude that someone had noticed our efforts. A grown up had noticed that we showed up to practice day after day and worked as hard as we could, even in early summer when the mornings were cold and everyone on the swim team jumped in wearing their t-shirts and Umbros, desperate to stay warm*. Maybe that’s one of the reasons we went on as adults to write thank you notes for gifts we didn’t exactly love, because getting participation trophies as a kid made us feel what it’s like to have our efforts noticed, even though they clearly weren’t up to “7 foot trophy that won’t fit in your parents car” standards. And isn’t gratitude one of the most important lessons we all try to instill in our children? Nobody was excited about participation trophies, but we were appreciative of them. There is a huge difference.
Oh man. I can’t believe I’ve reached the pivotal moment of parenthood where I’ve actually formed an opinion about “participation trophies.” I promise my next blog post will be about 90’s hip hop videos or leggings with unicorns on them or something fun.
* That was on the first day of practice, and at that moment I decided not to join the swim team that summer. What can I say, it was freaking cold. I remember my dad explaining to me with disappointment, “You can’t just sit on the couch eating Pop Tarts and watching TV all summer.” He had been a professional athlete, and the fact that he didn’t lecture me every single day about my lack of motivation makes him the greatest dad in the history of dads.