Trophies for Just Showing Up

Blue_Passenger train_2012-08-26

2013-05-15 – You see it everywhere: people decrying a culture that gives trophies for just showing up. It’s socialist, they say, not to demand excellence, to reward behavior that anyone can do.

I never got an award like that.

No. I take that back. I have a trophy on my bookshelf at work recognizing “In Appreciation for 10 years of Loyal & Dedicated Service.” So I have an award for just showing up, but only after 10 years. (Truthfully, I got this award after being at the company for 12-1/2 years. Delayed gratification.)

I have given showing-up awards, though. I was once head coach for a children’s soccer league. At the end of each year we gave a trophy or ribbon to the kids who made it through the season.

People get confused about these childhood awards. We give them to small children. When my kids graduated to middle-school activities, the attendance awards started to disappear. By high school, they were pretty much gone. (Not totally gone, as my 10-year award attests.)

I’ve heard people complain about the childhood soccer league for being insufficiently competitive. This mostly comes from very competitive parents who are anxious about their kids advancing to the competitive travel leagues. What they don’t get is that both leagues are good, as long as you don’t put a 6-year old into the travel league or a 14-year old into the baby league. The awards are age-appropriate.

Complaints about “trophies for just showing up” are really straw men. It’s not really happening. It’s really a statement of elitism. People who voice this complaint don’t like to share. (They probably didn’t get a trophy for the sharing lesson in their kindergartens.)

The odd thing about this whole thing is that a big part of adult life is just showing up. Woody Allen is famously quoted as saying “Showing up is eighty percent of life” (apparently from the August 21, issue of the New York Times).

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