Monday, March 15, 2010

Awards for Youth Sports

Help! I’ve been to many awards ceremonies for gymnastics meets over the years and I come away from most scratching my head and asking myself these questions. I’m hoping I can get feedback from parents and coaches that may help me find answers.

How did we get to a point where a two and a half hour meet is followed by a thirty to forty five minute awards ceremony? What’s best, giving an award to every child on every event, giving a certain percentage of the athlete’s awards on each event, or giving a gold, silver and bronze medal only on each event? If we know that intrinsically motivated children are more likely to persevere in sports longer, enjoy them more, and have a better chance of transitioning from youth sports to a healthy, active adult lifestyle, why are we putting such an emphasis on presenting extrinsic rewards following competition? Can our children base success on achieving their goals when we give the appearance that success is based on the number of awards they win and what place they take? What really creates opportunities for EVERYONE to celebrate, determining success based on your goals or giving everyone an award on every event, regardless of performance? What increases the long term desire to continue in a sport, determining success based on your goals or based on where you are on the awards stand? How meaningful is an award when you get one for just entering the competition? And, after we’ve answered all these questions, what can we do to make awards ceremonies better for our children?

Here are my thoughts on this matter. They will be considered by most to be old-school. I am quite willing to change my way of thinking about awards ceremonies if given good reasons to do so. First, as the amount of awards presented increases, either by number or by percentage of athletes who receive them, the value of the award decreases. Second, I believe children would rather not get an award than have to go up on the awards stand to receive a last place or low placing award. Third, we should not spend twenty to twenty five percent of our time at a youth sports event watching an awards ceremony. And, finally, if we want our children to reap the benefits of intrinsic motivation, we should drastically reduce the number of awards we present at meets.

What’s wrong with giving a gold, silver and bronze medal on each event and in the all around and a participation award or gift for everyone entered? If we keep age groups small, (less than ten children in a group) each competitor will have a pretty good chance of getting a medal (15 out of 50 scores would earn a medal). If a gymnast comes away without a medal, or they get only one, they will be very much in the majority, rather than the minority. When that child does win a medal, it will have meaning and create a sense of accomplishment. There are some additional benefits to this method. Entry fees can be lowered because the expense of awards will be less. The awards ceremony will be fast. No one will be called to the awards stand to get a last place award (or 15th or 20th). Our awards stands can be smaller (meet directors will appreciate this). Our children will learn to determine success by comparing their performance with their goals, creating opportunities for ALL to celebrate. Everyone in a competition can be successful by accomplishing their goals. The gold, silver and bronze medals should be used to distinguish the exceptional performances of the day.

I live in the real world and realize our awards ceremonies have evolved to a point where going back to a three medal ceremony is unlikely. But, I strongly believe we should look at every aspect of our children’s youth sports experiences and ask necessary and quite possibly unpopular questions about what’s best for the kids. And then, we must have the courage to do what’s right, every time, all the time.

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1 comment:

Rick McCharles said...

Your comments are valid, I think.

A simpler, faster set of awards would be respected. "More like the Olympics."

But the newest school system is also good. Every child leaves happy, if not intrinsically motivated: