There used to be a time when youth sports was competitive. The impetus for parents and adolescent athletes would be to come out as a winner. Not only was winning the ultimate goal, it also signified a sense of accomplishment because the trophy was emblematic of an array of qualities; such as hard work, discipline and commitment. The trophy served as the antithesis of the status quo. It allowed athletes to understand that simply being present at games was not good enough. Today, that has all changed. Youth sports have shifted from competition to inclusion. Organizations now believe it is more important for diversity, inclusion and equity than it is to determine the best athletes and teams. In August 2015, professional American Football player James Harrison expressed his disapproval by saying,
“I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy”
Harrison’s comments resonate with many parents, as one Instagram commenter praised Harrison’s parenting by writing, “Nailed it. I could not agree more. Thank you for speaking up and out. This is an epidemic”.
While many parents believe that competition is necessary in youth sports, others believe that an emphasis on winning leads to a crisis. It’s for this reason why many professional organizations have recommended to create an inclusive environment which puts the children’s needs and interest before competitive play. For example, the Ontario Soccer Association made changes to their Long-Term Player Development strategy by removing standings and scorekeeping, which is now “mandatory for all Ontario soccer programs starting in 2014 for players under the age of 12”.
Common sense seems to dictate that these politically motivated changes turn sports into something else. David A. Feigley, a sports psychologist suggested that those who do not think winning is important “miss the point that without an attempt to win the contest, the activity is no longer sport”. I side with David, but for reasons that are just as true for maintaining the integrity of sport as it is for helping adolescent athletes orient themselves in society.
By Vinu Selvaratnam
The views expressed in this article are my own and do not represent any institution.