Taking Trophies from Kids

In case you missed it, last week the defensive star for the Pittsburgh Steelers became the most recent flurry of internet heat. James Harrison was quoted as saying that he takes away the participation trophies that are given to his young kids, and I love it. In a time where showing up gets you praise, James is rebelling against the system. That system produced us current floundering twentysomethings, and not with bad intentions. Our parents, by-in-large, had tough, uncompromising parents. Their parents survived things. They fought in wars. They worked in factories, reared kids, and made a way for themselves. Our parents caught the firmness of the back of a belt, and sometimes the verbal, emotional, and physical abuse that came with having to be tough to survive. (This is not an excuse for abusive behavior, just illustrating a general shift in tone for what it meant to be a parent). For previous generations, a life of comfort and following your every pleasure whim were not nearly as socially acceptable as today.

Our parents swung the pendulum too far in the other direction. We were the best, at everything, always. We put drawings on the fridge even if they were not good. We kept “special boxes” of memories that included lots of random T shirts from childhood (actually, the mothers of a couple of my friends gathered all their old special shirts and sewed them into a quilt to they could see all their memories on a special blanket). I actually do think this is kind of cool, and I do wish I had kept my shirts from elementary school, sports, and youth group trips to turn them into a sweet quilt. But that is the problem! (or at least part of it). We swoon, literally, in our childhood accomplishments and we think that showing up warrants a trophy.

In real life, showing up doesn’t get you praised, and in response many of us stopped showing up. Not caring became cool.  Someone famous said that quote about 90% of success is just showing up. Great, but I think where you show up to is the key factor there. I think what you do matters a lot. I like that James Harrison, a man who obviously has a work ethic, is setting the standard higher for his son than just being on the team. Does being on a team take work? Dedication? Conviction? Yes, but those things should be normal things in you, not the things you celebrate. Those attributes should lead you to things worth celebrating, to the formational experiences, and the lasting memories.  

So, can we give trophies? Sure, but how about valuing people for who they really are. At a youth event a couple years ago, we went to a thrift store and bought a ton of trophies from the 80s and 90s. Old bowling trophies. Used BMX bike trophies. Medals given for random field days. When our students won the competitions at the weekend event, we awarded them with the upcycled trophies. Then, the biggest awards of the night went to the people who were “caught being good.” The people who did Christ-like acts of humility, servanthood, and unselfishness got called up and surprised with gift certificates and a huge affirmation.


Action Steps: Maybe the best we can do is call out the ways we see God at work in each other. Often times, I bet others can see God working in and through you before you can see it yourself. This week be quick to notice God at work and tell someone “Amen for your life.” Instead of failing to show up or awarding mere participation, let’s reward the goodness and godliness we see in others.