Throughout my entire childhood, I earned four trophies. The first I received in kindergarten for being friendliest girl. (It was always my favorite.) The others included one for my seventh-grade class spelling bee, one for softball, and I have no idea what the fourth was for. I’ve long since thrown them out.
I can’t imagine why I got a trophy for softball: maybe for being worst player, maybe for most comedic plays, maybe because I had guts to come back after the debacle from each previous week. Whatever. I was no MVP.
My son just earned his twelfth trophy. He will be nine soon. When kids play sports, they automatically get a trophy for participating. We don’t have room for all of these golden figures, let alone the big head our son now has because of them.
Before my son participates in anything, he first wants to know whether he’ll get a trophy. And it’s not his fault. Why do places like the Y give trophies to every kid? Why did parents demand it in the first place? Sure, it’s tough when your kid isn’t the star athlete, doesn’t make lots of baskets, doesn’t score the goals. But I don’t know, does my kid really deserve a trophy for learning a sport, deciding whether he even likes it?
My kid gets so excited to get those golden statues, but I don’t play them up. When he scores a goal, makes his first basket, makes a good play, or has a better game, that’s something to celebrate. I’d be OK with earning a trophy for sticking it out three seasons. It at least teaches patience. And it’s not just him. The other kids who only showed up half the season, they get trophies too.
My son has won awards on his own merit. I tell him those are the ones he should be proud of, not the ones you get for signing up. He placed first in his Scout den and second in his whole pack for the Raingutter Regatta, in which he had to build and design a boat, then on race day use a straw to blow it across a raingutter against competitors. His concentration and technique were solid, no nerves getting in the way. And unlike the other kids, he didn’t chew on his straw, causing slits for all that hot air to pass through.
Recently, the golden gem of all, he won his third-grade class spelling bee. When they announced the bee, I told him he could nail it. He didn’t even care about it. What? This is a kid who can look at a word once and know how to spell it forever. He knows football players’ names and states, just for fun. I pushed him to simply look at the list. He came home a winner…but no trophy.
During round two to determine the school winner, he was up against fourth and fifth graders. I’ve never seen my son work so hard at anything. He studied every night. He made an effort and he pushed himself. All things I feared he wasn’t capable of because he always takes the easiest approach to just getting by without failure. He doesn’t like a challenge.
He didn’t win that spelling bee. He bombed on one word out of a list of 400 words that he practiced all week and ranked in the middle. I told him I couldn’t have been prouder. I’ve watched him stand around on fields with his hands in his pockets and let someone else make the play, and earn a trophy for that. But now I’ve seen him put his best foot forward and not make the win.
Do I need to spell it out for him? This means more than any of those golden trophies.