Why My Kid Got a Medal for Doing Practically Nothing
Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” He talks about the highs and unsettling lows of parenthood while always being entertaining and engaging in the process. He has written the fiction book “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt” and is working on releasing a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons and can be emailed at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
When I was your age…
There are a few phrases I feared I would start saying once I became a parent, but this was certainly near the top of the list. For starters, it’s preachy. I hate preachy. I always rolled my eyes when adults dropped this one on me when I was small, and I definitely didn’t want to elicit the same type of reaction by saying it once I reached the age of play-dates and backaches. But it happened.
My 4-year-old son, Antonio played in a soccer league this past spring. I use the term “played” pretty loosely. I mean, his foot occasionally made contact with the ball (mostly by accident), but he spent the first 20 minutes of each session standing idly on the sidelines, waiting for it to be over, like I tend to do when my wife is shoe-shopping. What puzzled me was that he always seemed eager to get his gear on and head out the door, but disinterest always consumed him as soon as feet met grass. But why was he so eager to stand in a soggy field and do his uncanny impression of Ben Stein on downers? I was to find out soon.
It was the last day of soccer and events unfolded as they normally did—we struggled to get him to eat a substantial breakfast, he put his shin-guards on his arms, he laughed in our faces as we lectured him on the importance of punctuality, etc. It was one of those mornings where I wondered if all the effort was worth it. Or, more specifically, if the money we were paying for said soccer league was worth it. But ultimately, If my son enjoyed himself and learned a thing or two about teamwork, determination, being social, or hell, even how to double knot his sneakers, I’d walk away not completely dissatisfied.
So, I noticed as that last practice reached its end, Antonio seemed completely distracted. The kid’s four, so that’s not entirely uncommon. But he wasn’t focusing at all on what the coach was asking him to do. His eyes kept scanning the field around him, instead of being on the ball. At the next break in the action, he walked over to me for a sip of water. I simply had to inquire.
“Antonio, why aren’t you listening to the coach?” I asked.
He looked at me with dismissive anticipation and replied, “Where are the medals?”
“Medals?! Son, when I was your age…” I think you can see where this is going.
Now, I promise you that he wasn’t snotty about it. He truly was excited to be given this medal that he’d heard from a friend of his at school would be distributed to all players after the final practice. I, however, wasn’t so excited about it.
This may surprise those of you who read my article or saw me on HuffPost Live where I stood proudly as a progressive parent who encourages my sons to play with dolls. But I tend to lean towards old-fashioned philosophies when it comes to rewarding children. I believe, in general, that they should be earned. I also believe that if a reward is predetermined regardless of effort, our children will grow up under the impression that effort is optional. Now, I am all in favor of giving kids an incentive to be active aside from just the benefits of the activity itself. And I also understand that he’s only four and I should be lucky he’s even interested at all in playing a sport. But while handing a child a trophy or a gold medal simply for showing up encourages them to sign up for team sports, it certainly doesn’t encourage them to actually try.
When I was his age, things were different. You listened to the coach, you did your best, and the only people sporting bling were the kids on the winning team. To be clear, it sucked (especially since I wasn’t much of an athlete at age 8, or any year after that), but it made the times when I was on a winning team that much more meaningful. It also ensured I tried my absolute hardest. I can’t say that I would’ve put nearly as much effort into it if everyone involved was guaranteed the same prize, regardless of individual output.
As with almost anything, I believe the best approach lies somewhere in between the extremes. I do believe children need more encouragement to join team sports beyond the promise of burnt calories, but I don’t believe an “every kid gets a trophy” policy is the answer. How about rewarding each child based on their level of enthusiasm or team spirit? The kid who completes the most passes gets to be the first hand in the cookie jar after the game. That’s just one idea, but something simple that encourages teamwork yet whets the appetite for a prize instead of setting the expectation that the prize is waiting for everyone, the lazy and the motivated alike. I suppose I can dream, right?
Put simply, I don’t want my children being introduced to sports under the ruse that even the laziest of efforts is worthy of applause. This plants a pretty dangerous seed, if you ask me. Don’t get me wrong; it brought a smile to my face to see Antonio clutch his medal with glee. But after my instinctive grin faded away, I found myself imagining him not doing his math homework, while gazing off into the distance, picturing the “A” effortlessly being scribbled onto his test paper. Life doesn’t work that way, despite what the gold medal hanging on the hook on his room would lead you to believe.
Agree? Think I’m crazy? Thanks for reading and feel free to add a comment below!
* Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com
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