As we approach the end of the school year, there will soon be opportunities for measurements, awards, and recognition. Grades, test scores, athletic letters, music awards, best this and outstanding that.
I am troubled by recent debates which seem to be in conflict. On the one hand, there are those folks who believe we should ban “participation trophies”- where we recognize every child for just “showing up”. At the same time, many believe that the lack of recognition may be an underlying factor when our children engage in inappropriate and sometimes tragic behavior… from leaking classified documents to mass shootings to gang violence to suicide.
So, I wonder what is our responsibility as dads in giving our children “recognition”?
How Do We Define Winning?
Years ago famed football coach Vince Lombardi suggested, “Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing.” As someone who grew up hearing and believing in that concept, I wonder if the key to recognition is how we define “winning”? Rather than only comparing our children to others, or to some standardized metric; shouldn’t we also focus on each child’s individual gifts, talents, efforts and purpose; then measure against that standard?
For fifteen years, I coached young people in soccer and basketball. After every single game, in a team circle with parents watching, I sought to recognize the contributions of each individual player. I quickly learned, that in the team concept, all the players will not have the same opportunity to score goals or make baskets. Every player will not have the same opportunity to make an assist. Sometimes, being in the right place matters. Or some players are just more gifted at scoring goals or shooting baskets. The things we count. So, by recognizing only accomplishments that show up on “the score sheet”, the efforts of much of the team could go unnoticed.
In soccer, a defender’s well-placed pass might start a run up the field to a goal. That same defender playing his position well might discourage a pass in his direction and never have an opportunity to make a “play”. The presence of a well-known scorer might draw attention to himself allowing another player to score the points. The stagehand manning the spotlight at the high school musical can make the “stars” shine. In the traditional scheme, there may not be awards for which these efforts might qualify, yet all may be critical to the success of the others.
Shouldn’t those efforts be recognized? How about that basketball player who chases the other team’s best player throughout the game and doesn’t allow them to score? What about the least talented kid on the team who just gives it all he has in order that he might fill his position on the team? Or the bench warmer who provides competition in practice, then unselfishly encourages the “starters” constantly during the game? Where is their recognition?
Is Winning About Doing Your Best?
In our society, winning is important. Doing our best in competition – athletics, academics, music, or whatever, is our way of life. Striving for excellence is our goal. We should not lose sight of that. Scoring goals, making baskets, making saves and assists all can lead to success and deserve recognition. But don’t the other efforts deserve recognition, too? I am not suggesting that we give undeserved praise. Just coming to class or showing up for the game may not be satisfactory. Half-completed homework doesn’t deserve attention.
When others are giving their best efforts, shouldn’t they be recognized, too? As a hard-working law student, I was relieved when a professor reminded me that, by definition, one-half of the lawyers in this country graduated in the bottom half of their class. With some encouragement, those students usually go on to be good and well-respected lawyers.
Many students will give it their best and never fit in a category for formal recognition. We can hold out those traditional top awards for them to pursue, but they just won’t ever get there. On the other hand, many of those same students have other gifts and talents which are just as important, but for which there may not be “awards”. The student with the most nurturing heart – for which there is no trophy – might go on to be a fantastic nurse. Another student in the marching band – who may not receive a medal – may take their gifts of music to entertain others or lead worship services. Young people with hearts of service – for which there is no certificate – might go on to serve us all as police, firemen and pastors.
Isn’t it our responsibility to help each of our children find and develop their own unique gifts? It takes some effort on our part. As a coach, I had to watch ALL my players throughout each game, so that I could accurately recognize their contributions at the end. With all modesty, I know I changed the lives of more than one player by helping them realize their gifts and their value. Can you imagine how our society might change if every child actually gave their best because they appreciated that someone cared about them?
A common definition of recognition, is “the acknowledgment of someone’s existence or validity.” I think about the ongoing tragedies that have unfolded lately. How many times have we heard that a young perpetrator was looking for recognition? How many times did a child feel that no one listened? That no one saw them? That no one even cared?
As we conclude the school year. As we give due recognition to the top scholars, the top athletes, the top musicians. The scholarship winners. The team captains. The best musicians. Let’s not forget the thousands of other kids who are doing the best they can. The ones who are working hard. Following the rules. The ones who do not fit into the customary categories. The ones who just want us to see them. To hear them. To let them know we care. To be told that they have value, too.
I love you for who you are, not the one you feel a need to be….. Sly and the Family Stone