Now before the internet loses its minds and I get angry emails about participation, hear me out. First, we all know by now that participation trophies are detrimental to all parties involved. If you have any beliefs otherwise I urge you to listen to some of Simon Sinek’s talks on this or better yet check out some of the data surrounding it. The big broad brush strokes are that kids who deserve the trophies, the higher performers and podium finishers, feel devalued and the kids who get the participation trophies feel bad as they know they really don’t deserve recognition because they didn’t win anything… They just showed up and “checked the box”. Now for some kids and parents, this is a huge accomplishment and I love that, but it doesn’t warrant a trophy and a celebration of mediocrity. It just doesn’t… It does warrant a high 5 and an atta boy or girl though. Praise effort, but let’s not throw a party for it. Do you get a party for going to work every day? I didn’t think so. The appropriate reward for appropriate performance.
Over the last few years, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with hundreds of young athletes from the Tri-State area through partnerships with local schools, teams, and in rare occasions- parents who “get it”. The people who ask our facility and coaching staff to work with young athletes understand that going to practice is simply checking the box. Its the minimum required work to be a part of a team. For kids who don’t play sports maybe a gym class or weightlifting is required during middle and high school…. And that’s it! For many kids, they get 1 hour a day in their most formative years is telling them that physical competency is good and that it’s okay to work hard.
Today I had the opportunity to coach a group of 7th and 8th graders and some took part with genuine disgruntlement. They simply didn’t want to be there. Now, there are 100 different factors including diet, sleep, psychological, and physical restrictions that can play a part in the decline of activity in young people. And although VERY important topics not to be overlooked, they are for a later article. On the flip side, there were some students who LOVED the opportunity to be pushed physically. There were probably more of those students than I even recognized which give me genuine hope! These kids WANT to be pushed! They want someone to look at them and expect only their very best effort.
I don’t think that deep down kids want to be average. Ask any 1st grader what they want to be when they grow up and you’ll hear noble answers ranging from astronaut to zookeeper. Kids want to be great! And then at some point, they learn that they can get some stuff done with minimal effort… And then some more. And then they learn what is possibly the most detrimental lesson of all. You can get by in this life without giving it every ounce of your being. That’s a damn shame.
One of the biggest issues I see with young people today, student-athletes included, is that no one has ever looked them in the face and told them, “it’s not okay to be mediocre.” It’s not okay to be undisciplined and have no competency in the realm of physical fitness. It’s just not. For 100’s of reasons including physical and mental wellbeing. Many adults who interact with children want what is best for them, I really do believe that, but at the fear of seeming like a jerk or causing harm they choose the easier route which is let kids sit in their butts 7-8 hours a school day only to come home and spend another 6-7 hours on their butts in front of a tv, computer, or phone. This is NOT okay! Today, I saw more kids just stop moving when their legs got a little tired or they started breathing too hard. Rather than lean into that adversity and see what comes on the other side of it. I saw a large majority of kids gasping for air after a 2 minute warm up. This is NOT okay!
I do not believe 1 person is responsible for the disturbing decline in physical competency in young people. I say competency because I’m not even talking about sport ready fitness, I am talking about basic general physical preparation. It’s not the school’s fault, it’s not just the parent’s fault (though the largest piece of the pie is yours), and it’s not just societies fault. Its all of our faults because as teachers, coaches, parents, and adults we never looked a young person in the eyes and said, “it’s NOT okay to be mediocre. Especially not in the realm of physical fitness.” If the next generation cant squat, lunge, do a push-up and pull up… It’s our damn fault. If your kid does not see physical fitness as a priority…. It’s your damn fault.
I have never met one parent who looked at me and said, “I want my kid to be worse off than I was.” It’s the opposite, we want better for our children, hell we want the best for them! This means being the rational thinker and noticing that 12-14 hours a day on their butt is NOT okay.
Even worse off than the kids who have not been taught the value of fitness are the kids who have “athleticism” but do not appreciate the foundational work required to excel. I am not talking practice or hitting coaches or pitching clinics or football camps- that is checking the box. Everyone is doing that now. Almost every kid who plays basketball or volleyball does it in multiple leagues/ seasons a year. I am talking about the kids who put the time in the weight room and in the gym consistently.
I can tell you with near certainty which individuals and teams will be a force in their sport by how they approach summer, in-season, and off-season strength training. Every team and individual dreams of winning regardless of sport. No one at the high school level and up plays solely for the love of it. They want to win! They want to break the chains of mediocrity and touch greatness, if even for a minute. Most athletes love game day but hate practice at the lower levels. It’s just another thing that they have to do to play. This is a mediocre way of thinking. The best in any sport do not think this way. The best see training as a way to improve their skills for the next game, match, or season. The best know that it is NOT okay to be mediocre.
How many of us reading this have a young person who loves the grind, the practice, the training? I am betting very few, but if it’s you, congratulations share this with someone who needs it and pat yourself on the back.
For the rest of us, stop letting young people believe that it is okay to be anything other than the best version of themselves. Stop letting them be weak and incapable. Stop letting them complain about physical discipline. Stop letting them believe that it’s okay to be mediocre.