Trophy Kids – by Susan Dench our Guest Blogger

March 19th, 2012 | Posted in Edify, Mind+Body+Soul by

When the kids were younger, you could hardly place a book on a shelf with the number of trophies they had. Wow, that must mean they were incredible athletes that played on a lot of championship teams, right?

Uh, no, but they did show up.

The kids showed up for games in which scores weren’t kept (although they could tell you exactly what it was) so the message was, “Hey, it doesn’t matter if you practiced more, worked your butt off, are more skilled or had a more winning attitude on the field – this isn’t a meritocracy, we want to play down to the lowest common denominator and treat everyone equally. You’re special, just like everyone else. In fact, we are huge proponents of and encourage mediocrity. Otherwise, we might hurt some feelings and damage kids’ self esteem.”

Good grief.

At the end of every season, during the obligatory pizza party, shiny engraved golden globes were handed to each child, along with a healthy heaping of praise about how incredibly awesome they were and how much they contributed to the team. Um, well, that’s not quite true. In fact, each of them will tell you that soccer/basketball/softball/lacrosse (depending on the kid) wasn’t really their best sport. Kids are smart – they know a scam when they see one.

When we were growing up, your trophy was a cast on your broken leg, received blocking a ferocious shot and thereby saving the game. When asked, you could proudly tell the tale if how you actually earned your scars.

If the kids continue to play at the high school level, our experience is that they can be put on varsity teams even though they are only JV material – perhaps because they are a senior and it wouldn’t be “fair” to have them play down, or because their parents swooped in to threaten the Athletic Director and the coach found himself caught between a rock and a hard place. (I’m sure we don’t live in the only town where this happens. Don’t even get me started about the coach who caught three of his best players smoking pot but let it slide because he didn’t want them kicked off the team. But I digress – that is an upcoming post.)

So how does this play out as the kids reach adulthood? Well, Lands’ End and Bank of America have “praise teams” to make sure their younger employees enjoy high self-esteem and feel good about themselves by having praise doled out in consistent dosages. Our friends have noticed their younger employees can be quite needy, wanting constant reassurance about what a great job they are doing – even if they aren’t. Younger employees actually have the temerity to ask for entitlement raises – not for merit, but for simply showing up. (Hmmm, there seem to be some patterns here.) I haven’t heard of anyone asking for a medal for attending a conference, trade show or meeting, but could that really be far behind?

Now, who has to take responsibility for this disturbing turn of events? A vast conspiracy by the trophy industry? A master plan concocted by plastic and metal producers? I actually wish it was. But it is parents who are guilty of this ridiculous praise cycle. Parents who volunteer as coaches and hand out the trophies, parents who serve on the local sports boards that create such stupid, inane rules as “no scoring”, parents who have words with the volunteer coaches about the amount of playing time their kid gets, parents who praise the kid even when they, frankly, stink. Parents who actually condone and encourage this behavior. And we’ve created some monsters – in both the kids and the parents.

Our 2 1/2 year old granddaughter will be getting into sports soon (her grandfather already has her out on the ice and a miniature hockey stick is waiting for her in the hall closet). I really hope that she only gets a trophy if she truly earns one.

Susan Dench is a seasoned marketer who has been cited by marketing guru, Seth Godin, for her outside-the-box business thinking. Her background includes stints at large, mid-sized, venture funded and shoestring-budget entities, working internationally in brand management, marketing communications, partnerships and product and market development. Her company, Muddy Dog Media, offers guidance and resources to businesses seeking enhanced relationships with their clients. Only too happy to express her opinions, whether asked for or not (as energetically corroborated by her children), she is the author of several books including, “The Responsibility Rules: Living a Self-Disciplined Life in a Self-Entitled World.” Susan lives in Falmouth, Maine with her darling husband and admittedly spoiled pets in a charming 1920’s house, which is in a perpetual state of renovation.”She can be found at susandench.com or reached at susan@themuddydog.com

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