Plastic Trophy Syndrome

by Dr. Toby J. Brooks, PhD, ATC, CSCS, YCS-2, PES

 

I just can’t shake the awful feeling.  In a mixture of emotions that included gratitude, despair, frustration, and anger, I recently watched my oldest child, my six year old daughter Brynnan, play tee ball.  I have been involved with young athletes for quite a long time, and have worked with developed athletes even longer.  However, this year marks my first foray as a parent to a young athlete playing organized sports.  And wow, what an experience.

 

First, the gratitude.  I am SO very thankful that my daughter ended up on the team she is on.  By mere chance she was assigned to a team that has a fabulous staff of three volunteers who “get it.”  Practices are fun and geared toward acquiring skills that will help the young athletes be successful both now and in the future.  Teamwork and cooperation are stressed.  Make no mistake, though, the coaching staff wants to win.  However, I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the good dose of real-world perspective they bring to the ballpark.

 

Contrast that to the team my daughter played.  The first thing I noticed was that the pitcher, who also happened to be the coach’s son, never once threw a fielded ball to the first baseman.  In tee-ball, kids are not particularly fast to begin with, and there isn’t a tremendous amount of difference in foot speed between players either.  If the pitcher can cleanly field a batted ball, he/she is likely closer to first base than the batter.  It then becomes a foot race to the bag.  By coaching his kid to field the ball and run to the base, this joker of a coach was helping to ensure his team would win.  After all, doing so eliminates the possibility of either a throwing error by the pitcher or a fielding/catching error by the first baseman. 

 

However, can something be said for teaching kids and preparing them for the next level?  I wonder what Albert Pujols would do if Chris Carpenter ran every infield hit to the bag?  Not only is it stupid, it is so disrespectful to the kid on first.  “We don’t trust you can catch, so the pitcher is just gonna handle the whole thing.  Thanks anyway, kid.”

 

Seriously, if winning the league title for 6 year-olds playing tee ball is really that important to this coach, he needs to take a hard look in the mirror.  Later in the game, after one of his players was called out for running out of the baseline to avoid a tag while running from second to third, the coach yelled to “just run him over next time!”  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing. 

 

I’m all for winning.  Heaven knows I have been on my fair share of losing efforts, and I certainly prefer the feeling after a big win.  But seriously, what are we trying to teach our kids?  Winning at all costs is most important?  Sportsmanship and fair play are antiquated ideas observed by losers?

 

I’ll go so far as to say that based on my observations of the game, this particular coach is pathetic and damaging, seeking only to boost his own fragile ego by winning.  To him I say loudly, “WHO CARES?” You can have it.  While your kids are being taught to be bullies and to win at tee-ball, my daughter is learning movement skills and sport skills that will take her to the next level and beyond.  Or not.  Even if she chooses to never play again, she will be a more proficient mover and better prepared for whatever she elects to do next.

 

I’m sure if they handed out trophies for that, though, Coach Runemover would surely figure out a way to win that too.

 

Dr. Toby J. Brooks, PhD, ATC, CSCS, YCS-2, PES

Toby BrooksToby Brooks is Director of Research & Development for the IYCA. He is also currently an Assistant Professor in the Master of Athletic Training Program at the Texas Tech University Health Science Center in Lubbock, TX and is Co-Founder and Creative Director of NiTROhype Creative.

26 Responses

  1. Antony says:

    Well, kids watch adult sport, and they know it’s win at all costs, and no place on earth has forgotten the original reason sport was invented than the United States, so what did you expect. Question is, can you fix it? With so much corporate dollars involved, betting, player salaries, player’s manager’s commissions, TV rights, the answer is no! So just stop being a complaining parent, and face the fact that this is the world you have made for yourself.

  2. stormbikes says:

    If we all just adopted the attitude of the above commenter Antony we would never have anyone
    do things the right way. Always teach children the right way and the art of fair play – It does make
    a difference in the long run.

  3. David says:

    I call it “selling your soul for a $2 trophey” It goes alot farther and gets worse as children move through the “parks and rec leagues”

  4. Ralph Richardson says:

    Welcome to youth sports. It’s unbelievable,but it’s so common. I coach youth Football, Lacrosse and Wrestling and all I am about is getting these kids to come back the next year. I want them to become good highschool athletes.

    I never once heard a college coach say ” Did you Know He was a State Champ In 5th Grade”

  5. 3DFitLife says:

    Sad that he wont give them the time/emotional space to develop. I can wholeheartedly say these things mould a kid for the rest of their life. Would have gone nowhere in sport without that crucial 3 or 4 years it took me to find my feet, not being a natural. Natural selection at that age is reckless and senseless. Excellent article.

  6. Pete Douma says:

    6 year old T-ball? Are you in for an awakening. The nightmare gets worse. We call it Daddy-Ball. Fathers should not coach their own kids. Its never fair and no matter who you are you will never be objective. Never, ever. If your kid is on your team, have the assistant help with him/her.

  7. Shawn Sherman says:

    This is directed toward Antony – author of the first post in this thread.

    “So just stop being a complaining parent, and face the fact that this is the world you have made for yourself.”????

    Confused as to how “this is the world (Toby) has made for (himself)”. Does Toby own some corporation that invests big dollars? Is he illegally betting on games? Is he a professional athlete making an exorbitant salary? Does he collect huge commissions on players’ salaries? Does he control the purse strings at one of the major TV networks that pay big bucks to broadcast sporting events?

    I honestly don’t know the answer to any of those questions – but I’m “betting” the answer is “no”.

    So, while I agree with the notion that the amount of money involved in elite level sports is one contributing factor that is screwing up youth sports and athletics, my belief is that your comments about Toby being a complaining parent (and the “fact” that he is to blame for screwed up priorities of some youth coaches out there) is way off-base. You owe the gentleman an apology.

    Typically, I not someone that makes posts on these threads, but felt the need to “defend” Toby by pointing out the silliness in your assertions.

    Plus, as coaches and parents, it’s our job and responsiblity to raise our children to become compassionate, honorable, men and women of integrity. Obviously, in Toby’s story, the coach’s priorities are way out of line with that sentiment.

    I highly doubt the little tee-ballers involved in this story watch a lot of professional sports and have put together their strategies for making it in the big leagues. The story even talks about how the coach was audibly instructing a youngster to “just run him over next time”. How is that excusable and explained away as just part of the world we’ve created? Wrong is wrong and to sit idly by in these situation is cowardice. Coaches like this need to be confronted and corrected.

    Antony, my guess is that you have no children (which would explain the lack of perspective in your opinions). If you do have children, my opinion is that you need to better understand and take more seriously your role as a protector and instructor of your children. Otherwise, you’re running the risk that they’ll adopt your attitude of cowardice as well.

  8. Tricia Frei says:

    The days of t-ball are long past in my house but the lessons learned on the Little League fields are not. “It’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game.” This was the mantra sung over & over on our teams & in our home. We never once had a parent complain that their child looked forward to every game because he or she knew that they would have the chance to play. They might be really good or less than perfect. We sometimes won and sometimes lost, but every child played and had the chance to perform the skills they learned in practice. As my children have grown and moved into high school and college activities, the wins & the losses in Little League have faded away, as did the shiny trophys with the plastic statues. However, the ability to move, be a member of a team, practice good sportsmanship, enjoy participating with their peers, and most of all to do their best & enjoy their accomplishments, these things have proven to be lasting life lessons of immeasurable value. Shame on people like “Coach Runemover”. Not only has he forgotten what it was like to be a kid but he’s also forgotten the honor & importance of being an effective coach and the difference we can make in the life of a child.

  9. Shawn Sherman says:

    Brian,

    If you don’t want to publish my last post – no worries. I’m cool either way. If it’s too preachy or emotionally charged, I understand. Do what you think is best – I trust your judgement.

    Hope all’s well,
    Shawn

  10. Qaiser Waraich says:

    Dr. Brooks, something is not right with that tee-ball league. At that age in tee-ball, it’s pretty common that no scores are kept, kids run the bases regardless of whether they are actually safe or out, and it’s just for developing skills and having fun, not scoring and winning. The bad coaching aside, I’m surprised that your league for children that young is set up in the manner that it is.

  11. Alex says:

    There is a quick fix to a bad coach. Replace him. Voluneteer next year to coach. It’s something you will never regret, and you’ll never complain about the coach again.
    Alex

  12. Dale Speckman says:

    The very first response (Antony) is exactly what is wrong with society. The adult world of pro sports has nothing to do with the outcome of tee ball coaching. Give me a break! It simply comes down to the character of the coach. Little leagues do everything they can to put the right people in place but you simply do not have people beating down the doors to coach. In fact it’s the people that are beating down the door to coach that you should watch closely. So you have to deal with what you have. More often than not you will find that the coaches with backward priorities are frustrated athletes that did not fulfill their hopes and dreams as a kid and are still trying to do it through their son or daughter. Sad really but true. As far as not keeping score at that age, I cannot agree. We start keeping score the moment we can count to 10 as kids. We are born with a competitive spirit. Games were invented to win. I feel it is important to learn (teach) how to win and lose at a young age but do it the right way with sportsmanship at the forefront. As a coach you teach skill and life, not rainbows and lollipops. The art of coaching is balancing the win and lose (life skills) with the the movement skills. Think back to your favorite coaches you had as a kid. The ones you remeber are the best coaches and I bet they taught you how to play the game, win the game and how to deal when you lost. Youth sports, tricky business and one of my favorite chapters of life!

  13. Jim says:

    Agree with many of the responses. I know that generally speaking most of those parents who volunteer to coach do an admirable job. However, like all endeavors in life, you run into to those few who simply don’t get it.

    Youth sports should be about teaching the fundamentals, tactics, sportsmanship, and fun. While incorporating those elements into practice, you give your team an opportunity to play competively.

    That’s the goal in youth sports. Not winning but competing to win. The winning will take of itself.

  14. Robert says:

    I have a 10 year old and a 4 year old. It hasn’t changed from 6 years ago when my oldest started T-Ball at 4. I too am grateful for the coaches both my sons had in t-ball. Always throw the ball to first and try to learn the concept and get ready for the next level.

    I think the Coach referenced above, like many I have encountered, forget why we are there in the first place. When we were kids there was no organized sports at this age, we found an empty lot and played. Society does not promote that anymore with the knowledge of youth abductions. Parents just do not let kids out of their sight…so here comes organized young youth sports just so the kids can have fun and get a little exercise.

    This coach, or anyone that says get used to it, show how ignorant they are of youth development and training. They would not get close to my sons in a teaching capacity until Jr. High, if then.

    I would rather lose now, learn the fundamentals of the game, and win when it matters.

  15. skye says:

    Athletes? Taking it to the next level? Foot speed? With all due respect, we are talking about 6 year old playing silly T-ball and while the coach of the other team had some poor conduct, let’s not take it too seriously in general.
    This is one of the BIG problems with team sports in general today and why Action Sports are booming. Compare the “athleticism” required to skateboard with running around bases 3 times in a two hour period and take out all the BS like over zealous coaches and worse..parents; and its just your young “athlete” and their board, or bike and friends having fun.
    The whole seriousness of T-ball and others leave a bad taste in many kids and parents mouths in addition to fitness professionals.
    They are 6 years old, and we ALL should remember that.
    Thanks for the article, it drove me to write a response so it was obviously thought provoking!

    cheers

  16. Toby Brooks says:

    Antony-

    I fail to see how I am a complaining parent. As stated early in the post, I am SO very thankful for the coaching my child is receiving. She is being mentored and encouraged by good people who understand the role of youth sports. I was merely making an observation of an opposing coach. His behavior is sadly not that uncommon. If you don’t believe or understand that the role of youth sports should be to foster development for other aspects of life, I would go so far as to say you’ll probably have a hard time making many friends around these parts. That’s what attracted me to the IYCA to begin with.

    Youth sports do not serve as proving grounds for professional athletes. Their purpose should be to build young people and prepare them for other aspects of life. Without question, my daughter will not (nor will any other player on that field that day) play professional tee ball as an adult. That being the case, every coach who works with a young athlete should ask him/herself the simple question…”what is the point?” Practices and games should then be built around that guiding question. The primary point should NOT be to win the cheap trophy. If that happens as a result of what we are doing, wonderful. However, we would do well to never lose sight of that simple guiding question by the lure of immediate gratification.

  17. LJH says:

    There is already an organization in place whose goal is to produce youth coaches with a better approach to overall development. It has some pretty big hitters behind it, including Phil Jackson. It is called the Positive Coaching Alliance (http://www.positivecoach.org/). If you are interested in advancing youth coaching in your area, you would do well to explore having a session with this group. I was a parent-coach who attended one of their sessions organized by my local park district. It was greatly influential and caused me to reevaluate many things I was doing on the sideline. I can confidently say the results are very impressive — and ever so much more rewarding — all without sacrificing any wins. The great value of the PCA is the perspective they help to impart to the youth coaching community. I now receive their free monthly newsletters, which deal with many thorny issues faced by youth coaches. You might consider looking into it yourselves. Just a suggestion.

  18. SoCal Brian says:

    Parents should not be teaching their kids to be so competitive this early on. I remember when sports were fun!! I truly don’t remember wins or loses until high school to be perfectly honest and I competed on a pretty high level later on, much later on though. Personally, I feel that we need to educate the parents a lot more than the kids at this point pertaining to organized sports and competition. I agree with you 100% Dr. Brooks, foundational training and movement skills are much more important at these young ages, much more than winning. As parents we need to teach sportsmanship and how “you win some and you lose some” to our children so these types of coaches won’t ever affect our kids.

  19. Heath Utley says:

    I am the father of 4, ages 5 to 12 all of which play 3 to 4 sports each. I try to coach or assist on many of their teams. I do not know what it is, but of all their activities we as a family have run into more inappropriate behavior in baseball than anything else. For example, on my second son just turned 10 and on his current team is a dad that belittled my son from the stands when he was 8 (doing much better this year), a dad that is no longer allowed to coach because one of his assistants was removed from a game by the police(who is not allowed on the premises ever again). This is balanced by some very nice families and some great kids, but my son faced a 9/10 year old pitcher recently that was throwing curve balls, it is making him successful now but is a horrible idea long term.

    Life presents many “teachable moments”. Both positive and negative experiences can be used by parents to help their children learn.

    Parents need to provide their kids a balanced perspective, because unfortunately you are going to run into individuals that clearly lack “balance”.

    Thanks for providing us the opportunity to reflect on what is actually important.

  20. Phil Hueston says:

    First things first. Toby, you’ve got it right. It’s supposed to be about the development of the child as an athlete, and Coach Runemover should be the first one to be run over.

    Antony, you’re kidding, right? Should the victims of the Nazi Holocaust have accepted their fate without complaining because that was the “world they made for themselves?” Far stronger powers with more authority were at work causing that disaster, don’t you think? (Here, too, if you open your eyes to look.)

    Should we allow our kids to eat themselves to death at McDonalds, Burger King, etc, simply because there’s an inordinate amount of “corporate dollars and TV rights” involved? Wouldn’t that be akin to child abuse?

    Working to right wrongs like this one is part of the IYCA mission! Educating coaches, parents and athletes about what’s important, then teaching them how to do it better is why we exist!

    If you seriously believe the words you wrote, perhaps this is not the organization for you. I deal with coaches and parents with your attitude on a daily basis. Many of them are on the wrong end of an injured or damaged child.

    If we want to simply step over the pieces of shattered young athletes and children, we should do nothing.

    To give them a chance to love exercise, sport and life, it’s our duty to work to change the attitudes of coaches and parents everywhere.

    My 2 cents…

  21. Bob O'Neil says:

    Toby is spot on! Unfortunately, I don’t see it changing unless we begin to teach adults and they “get it!” I run a men’s church basketball league and the behavior of some of these men who have forgotten that this is a “game” that is suppose to be fun is infectious — it infects their kids and ours too.

    Every youth league ought to require that parents attend an afternoon workshop that covers the purpose of the league and the role that the parents should play in their child’s development. Awaken these parents to the real goal of equipping kids with skills that will help them function safely and happily in recreational sports for a life-time. Teach these parents that we want their children to enjoy and place as first priority learning a game and getting better — not winning. I, too, love winning but on any given day that leaves no less than 50% of us feeling like or being losers.

    Sports – games – recreational activities – art — all of it is about celebrating the process of life and should not be about teaching that the only way to have fun is at the expense of others. Vince Lombardi was wrong when he said winning was the only thing. That’s for pros who make a career out of it and it is no longer a game. For the rest of us — it is and should always be about “playing.” If we get that right then perhaps we can teach character in the face of both losing and winning.

  22. Steven says:

    The “other” coach resembles someone I encountered when my son was T-ball age, and that misguided mentality is why my son chose not to play ball anymore after two uninspiring years.
    The two plastic trophies were meaningless to him, and he didn’t bother keeping them.
    As much as I loved baseball, I could see that my son was not going to have the same enjoyment that I had when I was younger, so I did not try to change his mind.
    He found other sports and other activities which were much more rewarding, so there was simply no reason to waste time with a poorly organized program.

  23. Densie Dumoulin PT says:

    Welcome to the current state of youth sports. I feel Your pain all the time. I have 2 kids 10 and 8. we have been involved in rec sports since they were 5 or 6. the way we found to combat it is to voluenteer in your organization and work to educate those around us. Beleive me there is a lot of resistance to changing “the way we have always done it. ” Hats off to the IYCA for education.

  24. Brendan Murray says:

    I saw a gifted athlete start out and take up a position in a race.

    I heard a parent exclaim “What are you at (———–)”, but I will not name the unfortunate child, who was hurt earlier in the week in an accident.

    What was the athlete doing so wrong?

    The child was in 2nd position, when the parent expected the child to be in 1st position.

    As the child passed she held out her arms in helplessness and said with tears in her eyes “I can’t, I can’t.

    The child continued to run and maintain 2nd position, but crossed the finish line and broke down in tears.
    I tried to offer some encouragement and said “you can not expect 100% effort when someone is injured”
    “Yes, I know”, said the parent,”but sometimes injury can be used as an excuse for not winning”

    The athlete who was expected to win was ten years old.

    And friends, the story is true. I know, I was that coach.

  25. Janila says:

    I believe winning should be about long term winning and individual winning. Winning at this age level doesn’t say anything about winning at higher levels. The way this team plays now will only get them so far; this coach must realize that.
    About long term winning, one should have a game plan based upon what is best for the youth players in his upcoming years. What will prepare them best and/or develop them best as a player? As for individual winning, I believe everyone should be given an equal opportunity. Playing one child more just to win negatively affects both that child and the team. The child will believe he is not good enough, and the team will learn that it is ok to exclude others for the sake of a score.

  26. Eru says:

    What should we be doing?really,the first thing is 6yr olds aren’t there for the politics,the future or any other adult themed reason,they just wanna to play some type of GAME,most don’t really care about how the game is played at that age,they just want to participate and not get hurt,enjoy it then, move on to the rewards,no.1 reward-a SMILING (and maybe tearful) parent no.2 reward-a BIG HUG then what ever comes next,at the end of the day it’s all about the child,Your very lucky that your child has a good unit of coaches/helpers,so, be there for her and she’ll come back next week and so on,Good Luck:)

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