The Daily Gamecock

Column: Throw out participation trophies

Most of us have heard the phrase, “You can do anything you set your mind to.”

That’s a load of crap.

If that were true, I wouldn’t be the sports editor of a college paper — I’d either be a touring musician or a Heisman contender.

Last week, NFL linebacker James Harrison posted on Instagram that he would be returning the participation trophies given to his children. Naturally, the two-time Super Bowl winner was ostracized by the majority of Americans, many of whom deemed Harrison cruel and unloving.

Harrison is right.

Americans have a sense of entitlement that starts with participation trophies and extends to a general attitude of laziness. Any child over the age of five who receives a participation trophy is being taught that to attain success, they only have to participate.

Newsflash: success is so much more. For one, the definition of success is different for every person on the planet. There is nothing anyone can do to find success in the eyes of everyone else.

More importantly though, participation trophies can encourage kids to pursue a path that they are not meant to follow.

I mentioned earlier that if I could really do anything I wanted, I’d be a Heisman contender. I was a solid strongside linebacker in middle school. In fact, I once forced four fumbles in a single Pop Warner game. However, I quickly realized that my body was neither big enough nor strong enough to compete at the high school or college levels.

Instead, following the advice of my dad and other mentors in my life, I decided to focus all of my training efforts on martial arts. If I had continued with football instead, I’d be a Division III special-teamer at best; instead, I am a second-degree karate black belt.

The most beautiful thing in life is that we are all created differently. Because of this, some people are more naturally gifted at certain sports than others.

We’ve often heard of the hard work Michael Jordan put in at the high school level to make the team and eventually earn a scholarship to North Carolina.

If Jordan had instead decided to focus on music, I highly doubt he’d be good enough to sell albums. God did not give Michael Jordan an incredible voice, just the body to become the greatest basketball player ever. Some people are simply better athletes than others.

Awarding someone a trophy they did not earn does not boost their confidence. Most kids are smart enough to know when they receive something they did not earn. In martial arts, I was never given anything without earning it, so whenever I was awarded something, it was reason for celebration. There was never any self-doubt running through my head; I knew I earned any belt, trophy or title I received.

Our society tends to push kids towards goals that are deemed acceptable by the population as a whole. College has become the pinnacle of success for high school students, and those who choose to go other routes are often criticized. Success is meant to be defined by the individual rather than the group as a whole.

Let’s get rid of participation trophies. If a kid doesn’t make it in the top three, let’s spend time helping them determine if that sport is the most beneficial activity for them. If there is another direction that more closely lines up with their unique skillset, let’s steer them that way.

The point of children’s sports is not to give them a false sense of accomplishment. Rather, sports are designed to allow kids to have fun while gauging their own ability in various activities.

Rewarding a kid for effort encourages them to pursue the wrong avenues and thus miss out on success in other areas. Stop criticizing James Harrison for wanting his kids to find their own success; we all should be doing the same.