Saturday, December 17, 2011

To the Victor

So, our shelf is filling up with trophies. The Babydoll and The Baby Boy have a year or two of sports and activities under their belts, and they've been rewarded with trinkets at the end of each season. At this point, we've already been involved in dance, gymnastics, karate, baseball, softball, and basketball. I see the line of demarcation, when the activity starts to be recognizable as an actual sport; there are scores, winners, losers, rules, referee calls. I appreciate the entry level when they were around three years old and simply trying to figure what they were supposed to be doing. I also see that most activities have a separate realm for those who are "special" or "gifted" in an area. But now, I kind of wish there was a little more merit involved in general.

My children are likely not on their way to compete in anybody's Olympic games (for many reasons, including my belief in normalcy and refusal to spend all of my money or turn my life upside down) so leaning towards merit might also mean they would be left trophy-less. What I'm really thinking is that I want them to know when are really good at something and when they are just doing it for fun. When they need to work harder to master a skill. When they can look to their peers as an aspirational example. I'm sure that's coming, and I'm not so much looking forward to the pain of losing or failing--their pain or my pain because I am a horrible loser. But The Babydoll asked when she was playing softball, "What will happen if we don't win?" I didn't know how to answer that. The coaches explained that if they worked hard in practice, they would win more games than they lost, and they did. And when they did lose, they told the girls that they could learn from those games. But my answer to the question was basically, "Nothing." I meant that nothing bad would happen if they lost a game, like being poked with a red hot poker or forced to hit balls until they hands bled or banished from the game forever; but The Babydoll is also very Type A, so I wanted her to know that I would also not be angry with her if they lost. It made me a little uncomfortable, though, because nothing really did happen when they lost. They got the same trophies at the end of the season no matter how they played. That's true even for my son, who decided in the middle of the short season that he was waaayyy over the pushing and tackling for the balls that were pushed two feet and rolled off the tee. He thought it better to stand perfectly still the entire game and fake a tummy ache. Gymnastics seemed to sort of split the difference by giving scores during the meets (it's recreational, not elite) and ranking them, but they were ranked all the way to eighth or ninth place so that every girl in every category had a place on the podium. They still all received the exact same trophy, though. The Babydoll had a relatively high number, but I couldn't help but think that if I were number one in my category, I'd want my trophy to actually read #1. Then, there's that whole Tiger Mom thing, that suggests that there's great reward in pushing yourself to the limits and accomplishing something through sacrifice and extremely hard work. Then again, I value normalcy, and playing piano 80 hours a day just ain't normal . . . .

I'm sure this will take care of itself soon enough, as my children as still very young. The agony of defeat will show itself readily whether we want it to or not. And when I think of it again, this "trophy just for showing up" method serves my purpose quite well, as my thought was to allow them to try lots of activities while they are young so that they can see what they like and what they are good at for when they are older. (I think that teenagers need something to take up their time and something valuable to keep them on the straight and narrow--I have a lot of theories, huh?). So maybe it doesn't matter that they get a trophy for doing the minimum. Of course, I know that I'm paying for those trophies as much as if I just went to the store and bought them. In the end, our shelf is filling up with rewards, not awards. But maybe that's okay. For now.

3 comments:

Ink said...

Ooooh, great post. After pondering, I came to the conclusion that basically trophies "mean" whatever we agree that they mean. So if nowadays the trend is to give them for showing up, I'm ok with that. When it's higher stakes, the kids will have to understand that the "meaning" has changed, I guess.

I don't know. But that's where I am today. ;)

The Steel Magnolia said...

That's a good point, Ink. Trophies are really only tiny statues until we assign meaning to them; that "meaning" can be whatever the giver or receiver decides. It occurs to me now that hey are kind of like grades in that children receive marks appropriate to their skill levels and learning expectations when they are young.

Ink said...

Great comparison!