Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Bring On the Participation Awards

There is a common theme running through blogs and other media that we are cheating our children by reducing formal competition. I've had it with all those who whine about the evils of participation medals, medallions, and certificates rendering kids incapable of losing. I am frustrated with those who say they cannot understand these awards. My own kids have received participation medals for school events, sport events, church events, scouting events, et cetera. They aren't thrilled with the medals, but they surely do come home and hang them up. Let's clarify my thesis. I like awards for those who win. I also LIKE participation awards for every child who tries. Period. Life is tough and has plenty of competition. It's starts as soon as the child is conceived. Other experienced mothers compare your pregnancy to theirs. You're not nearly as big/small/swollen/thin/sick as they were. The comparison picks up speed as the baby is delivered ("But your labor wasn't nearly as bad as mine...") and before we know it, our child doesn't sit up, crawl, walk, speak as early/fast/cute as someone eases. Play dates begin and are soon followed by school where it doesn't take a child long to realize someone else colors/dresses/reads/gets the teacher's attention more effectively than they do. There are almost always teacher's pets and our children may not be the chosen one. There are contests and competitions and school concerts and plays and our child will not always get the best response or even get a part at all. There are social pressures and our kids will find that not every one likes them. They will learn that others have talents they don't, but what we desire is for our kids to understand that they are special, created in God's own image. We want them to know that trying is everything. We want them to learn to how be part of a team and be gracious in winning and losing.My kids are shy. They aren't the greatest athletes in the neighborhood or the strongest students in the area. They aren't typically outgoing, charismatic leaders, but they are lovely and bright and very capable. I don't know what paths they will choose, but I do know that the more of life they experience, the more they will learn. And the more they learn, the more their confidence will grow. And the more their confidence grows, they more they will be willing to risk.And how does all that happen? By introducing them to a myriad of opportunities and acknowledging their willingness to participate -- even if they never make a basket or set a new school record. If, every time they try something and they aren't #1 or #2, but they get a pat on the back from mom and dad? It just isn't as effective as a teacher/coach/leader handing them a participation award and saying, "It meant a lot to us that you were part of our team this year."This year our local AYSO pulled the goalies/keepers from the games at soccer for our second grader's level. The idea was that so many more kids could score without the intimidating presence of a goalie. That just didn't happen on my boy's team. He found that there was nothing to aim for, no competition to embrace.I am not arguing that we remove all competition or scoring. I am not arguing that we remove winning and losing. I am arguing that when my child attends every game/recital/class and puts as much effort into it as the "winner", that my child be formally acknowledged, too. When a child doesn't win, he knows it. He feels it deeply. Participation awards don't take away from that. They simply say, "You are valuable, too." Is that such a bad thing?

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