Jared Fialko

Participation Trophies: Not the cause of losing streaks

Posted December 10, 2016

I had four trophies to my name as a child. The first, a second-place trophy from the Marywood Mile, which I ran when I was 11 years old. Sadly, I think my 5th grade self can clock a better time than modern day me.

Second, a third-place trophy from my third grade spelling bee. I made the final three and choked, the only person in the entire event to misspell two words. You best believe I haven't made that flub on "aisle" or "altar" ever again. I recovered well enough to win the sixth grade competition, don't worry. "Biscuit," the winning word, by the way.

Third, a first-place trophy from my third grade math bee. Yes, we had those. It was the last time I got one-up on our school's eventual valedictorian. So, yeah. Take that, Roger Wu! You may be enjoying life as a doctor, making boatloads of money, but you don't have that trophy now, do you?

Fourth, a random trophy I received for taking part in my Farm League's baseball team. I didn't hit .700, like I did the following year when I destroyed that division (yeah, I was older than most kids in that division that year because I didn't make the Little League cut because of my late birthday, but I crushed it). Our team didn't win the league. Heck, I don't think at that age bracket we even had a semblance of a playoff, the season just kind of stopped. The coach gave everyone on the team a trophy. It wasn't as cool as the previous season where our coach somehow got us all personalized signed photos of Yankee great Phil Rizzuto.

The last of those, would make me a horrible person in Jeff Walz's book. The trophy, not the Rizzuto autograph. I hope at least, anyone who doesn't like Scooter is a monster.

In case you missed it, the Louisville women's basketball head coach made a "HOT TAKE!!!" that was downright four alarm fire when he ripped his team after losing to No. 7 Maryland. The object of his arson: participation trophies.

Let's break down this furious diatribe, rant by maddening rant, shall we?

“You’ve got to have a will. You’ve got to have a will. Right now the generation of kids that are coming through, everybody gets a damn trophy, okay? You finish last, you come home with a trophy. You kidding me? I mean, what’s that teaching kids? It’s okay to lose."

Well, that's one way to paint it with a broad brush.

"And unfortunately, it’s our society. It’s what we’re building for. And it's not just in basketball; it's in life."

He says this, yet, all I can hear is GET OFF MY LAWN!

“You know, everybody thinks they should get a job. Everybody thinks they should get a good job."

If you invest six figures into a college education, yeah, I don't think that's an unrealistic expectation and all.

"No, that’s not the way it works."

If only Ted Knight were still around to yell, "the world needs ditch diggers too!" to really hammer home his point.

"But unfortunately that’s what we are preparing for. Because you finish fifth, you walk home with this nice trophy, parents are all excited."

Wait, the same parents who are actually the ones buying and handing out the trophies, correct? Not the kids you are ranting about? So, which generation should you be shaking your fist at again?

“No. I mean, not to be too blunt, but you’re a loser."

Somewhere, sensei John Kreese is smiling while planning to break your All Valley Karate Tournament Second Place Award into a thousand pieces before choking you out.

"Like, we’re losers. We got beat. You lost. There is no trophy for us."

Please direct us to the large, cumbersome piece of medal that the Terps can now put on their mantle.

"But unfortunately the way these kids are brought up today, there is a trophy. Because nobody wants anybody to have hard feelings; nobody wants to get their feelings hurt."

Again, are the pint-sized players of this world purchasing these with their allowance?

"But unfortunately in the real world — I’m not sure how it is with your all’s jobs — but with mine, if you lose enough, you get fired. And that’s just the way it is. And I’m trying to explain to our kids, like ‘Hey, I’m trying to prepare you for the real world, because when you go to get a job, there’s competition, and what are you gonna do to stand out’?"


"But unfortunately, we’re not preparing these kids — before they get to us, at least — to be ready for that."

Note to self: win more.

Okay, here's where Walz officially loses me.

“You know, when you play three, four AAU games in one day, you lose three of them and then you win the last one and everybody goes home happy, you’re 1-3.

The same AAU circuit that every coach in America expects their recruits to play in now because if you don't play against elite competition you don't get noticed?! I'm willing to bet a strong percentage of kids Walz signed were AAU regulars.

"I mean, I know it was a long time ago, but God darn, the days we played, when you lost, you went home. There was no friendship bracket. You know, ‘Let’s go on the left side to the friendship games so everybody can play two more games.’ No, you went home."

Play more games against elite competition, in order to better your skills, but don't you even dream about losing!

"You went home a loser."

Did you walk the five miles home, uphill, in a snowstorm to do so?

"And then you worked at it if you wanted to be good. You figured out a way.”

I saw no fewer than a dozen of my coaching friends post said clip on Facebook this past week. You know which coach was also inspired? Indianapolis Colts chief Chuck Pagano. On Friday, while in the thick of a three-way race for the AFC South Division Championship, he told the media, "There's no trophies for second place, right? Saw a good YouTube video of a basketball coach explaining that."

And here we go.

"I thought it was pretty good. You can finish fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and everybody goes home happy. That ain't real life. There's only one trophy. There's only one division champ. That's how they're treating it, and that's how we're treating it."

Okay, but, firstly, do Divisional Championships really mean anything to anyone outside of the folks at Nike who can't wait to print "2016 ____ Division Champion" for poor saps to buy, before they then have to rebuy "2016 ____ Conference Champion" apparel?

Secondly, the way professional football is designed, you can lose your division, but make the playoffs as a Wild Card and miss out on nothing more than a single home game. No team's gonna be holding that "We won the division" taunt over anyone if said Wild Card squad actually advances further in the postseason.

Thirdly, the coach of a franchise who proudly displays a "2014 AFC Finalists" banner in their stadium is chastising participation trophies.

Fourthly, wonder what kind of "at least you tried" plaque this playcall deserves?

Look, to a certain extent, I get it. I don't necessarily agree, but I get it. Adolescents' reach far exceeds that which it did some 30, 40, 50 years ago. Social media, video games, binge-watching "Stranger Things" over the weekend, kids have far more things things available at an instant. Hometown and high school pride has taken a massive hit when communities are no longer the end-all, be-all because we can FaceTime with anyone literally half a world away. My coaching friends, in a much calmer, less-ranty fashion than Walz, get fed up when they see athletes not take the same sense of hometown swagger that they once did. In many ways, it is sad, and you can blame a lot of things.

Just don't blame a piece of participatory plastic.

Currently listening to: "Westworld: Soundtrack." All of it. Because hearing modern songs played old-timey on a piano makes me feel all the feels.

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  • Ed McKim Dec 12, 2016
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    I can't tell if he's blaming the players themselves, or if he is in fact indicting the parents for, what I am assuming he is saying, making kids soft through "participation trophies"... let's not forget the sports entrepreneurs and league managers out there who coach individuals and run leagues and want kids to, well, keep participating in those sports! If it sounds like I am justifying participation trophies, you are correct. I don't actually think they are a bad thing. Participation trophies can keep kids playing sports (that none of them will play professionally or collegiately) past when they may have previously stopped, which makes for healthier kids and adults later on. At the highest level (college and pro athletics) the players know the difference and do play to win anyways... So yeah, I don't know if what he is complaining about is actually why his team sucks... I have a feeling it's just because he's a bad coach (which this rant kind of proves).

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