everybody gets a trophy

Every parent wants the world for their children. Becoming a mom has opened my eyes to the sacrifices I’m willing to make for my little guy without batting an eye, and it has made me understand how easy it can be to get passionately carried away when you want something for your child. I want Graham to have amazing opportunities and experience feelings of pride and success when he accomplishes something great. I want him to reach for the stars and discover his talents and work hard to move mountains.

But I also want him to experience failure.

I mean — I don’t want him to fail — but I want him to learn important lessons about life through failure, because at some point, everyone fails at something. If he plays sports some day, I don’t actually wish for his team to lose the game or the race, but if that happens (and it will) I want him to learn to accept defeat with grace and the understanding that not everyone can win all the time.

We’re not there yet so maybe my tune will change in a few years, but I have heard from acquaintances who have older children that many kids sports leagues don’t keep score these days. Soccer games and t-ball games are for learning and fun, and everyone wins.

Well. Of course I want my son to learn and have fun. I don’t want him to think, at age three, that winning is all that matters. But shouldn’t he learn that winning is at least an option? And so is losing? Shouldn’t he learn early on that when you win you have accomplished something, but you don’t need to gloat? Shouldn’t he learn that when you lose you can handle it with grace, take it as a learning experience on how to improve next time, and congratulate the winner on a job well done?

If he plays sports for a few years and no score is kept, what is going to happen when they do start keeping score?

As my husband says of our self-centered society, “Everybody gets a trophy.”

But that’s not real life. Everyone doesn’t get a trophy all the time. Call me crazy, but shouldn’t our kids be learning that from the very beginning? Are we just setting them up for even more disappointment if we shield them from reality for their early formative years?

So many questions, and I have no answers :) For anyone reading who has children old enough to play sports, do their teams keep score? How do you feel about the trend of not keeping score when kids are young?


  1. I agree 100%. Not everyone can always win and we should absolutely be keeping score starting with T ball. Kids need to learn they can’t always have their way through competition and sports (because like you said, that is the real world), just as they will learn this lesson at home, especially with their siblings. Growing up, there were times I didn’t get to do something so that my brother could have opportunities too. And that in a sense is losing and is a huge life lesson. Parents who don’t teach this lesson early and often are, in my opinion, putting their kids at a disadvantage.

  2. Totally agree. I don’t want my kid to fail, but I want her to know how to work hard for something – that it takes practice to be good, and to get better – that there are people who will be better at things than her, but that doesn’t mean she’s not good, or should give up. I was watching toddlers & tiaras the other day (guilty pleasure) and the little girl who wanted to win, didn’t – when they interviewed her after, she wasn’t angry or sulky, she said she was sad but that it was another little girl’s turn to win (which I loved).

  3. I’m in a different boat. I think sports/activities should be fun and not in a “competitive” way until kids are older and mature to distinguish what capacity and talent and skills they possess. That doesn’t mean that the lesson of “winning” can’t be taught earlier and in different ways, like beating your own personal score and excelling but I think that we do a huge disservice in advocating these baby sports leagues for kids. I want to encourage the love of sport and passion for activity, not the “thrill of winning.” The purpose of t-ball is to learn the skills of the game, not to have a team that is capable of winning. I recently watched a “keep score” t-ball game where the score was 26-2. Neither team understood what that meant, nor valued “winning” so did it matter that there was a score? Oh it did to those parents. Trust me, you don’t want to hate all of your neighbors & your child’s classmates parents by the time he/she turns 4. And I do now. :(
    All-star teams for 6 year olds and travelling teams for 7-9 year olds make me ill. We’ve already established that we won’t do anything in our house other than fun rec leagues until the age of 10.
    This also comes from the perspective of parents who were recruited for collegiate athletics and I also spent 4 years working for the recruiting department of one of the top mens/womens NCAA programs in the country, and knowing what it actually takes to get a college scholarship. It’s actually why I truly love football and college recruiting, because it’s such a short period to be/get good due to size/strength that can’t be obtained until the age of 16.
    There’s my rant. My super tall kiddo will go back to hitting her balloon w/her wooden spoon in the house until her tennis serve gets to be 25 mph. Then she’s allowed to play a match.

  4. I completely agree with everything you said (and said so well!).

    I find myself saying things like “things aren’t like they used to be!” I wonder if it’s a sign that I’m getting old.

  5. I wanted to come back and share a couple of links to a book chapter that more aptly defines my “view” of the situation. I was discussing where my views came from with a friend, and emailed these to her after the conversation, so I figured I’d share them here too.

    “Beyond the facade: Youth sport development in the United States and the illusion of synergy” from the Routledge Handbook of Sports Development


    (also “The Professionalization of Organized Youth Sport: Social Psychological Impacts and Outcomes” by Brower (1979) — “Organized competitive youth sports ostensibly are for the young athletes, but the cross pressures and often overburdening demands from coaches and parents serve to make the sporting experience considerably less than relaxed and recreational. In most youth leagues the model of how sport should be approached is that of the adult professional ranks;those athletes who earn a living from their sport. The concern with winning above the concern with enhancing the experience of the athlete is at the core of the professionalization of youth sports.”

  6. We have five children that all participate in a multitude of different activities. I completely agree with you…everyone should not get a trophy all of the time…kids should learn to win and lose with grace and good sportsmanship. I agree with another commentor that at certain ages, kids should just participate for the fun of the game and no score should be kept.
    I think the most important thing for kids is to 1) participate…no matter what…whether it be sports, clubs, whatever 2) have great attitudes (I have one child that really doesn’t like a lot of the sports we put her in, but she does them and is a good teammate and always has a positive attitude) and 3) be COACHABLE…this means being a good listener, having a good attitude, supporting their team/club, and giving their all (not nessesarily being the best at something)

  7. Can I just do things the Polish way – no organizes sports at all? If you want to learn tennis, you teach yourself to play tennis. I listened to a Marketplace podcast where they profiled a family spending thousands of dollars a year on running their kids from one activity to another so their kids could go to college and it made me sick to my stomach. Unless you want to play basketball in college, why does it matter if you play it in high school? How does that make someone who wants to major in biology a better college student? Your post reminded me of that.

    Directly related to your questions, I have no intention to put my children in no-score leagues. Although it still has problems, in my mind a better system is to create a divisions based on skill. If you’re too good for your current team, you move up and go to a different one. Want to move up into the A teams from the C teams? Work hard. Get better. Sad that your friend is better than you are and in a higher league? Either improve or accept it. That’s what real life is like.

  8. I agree with you 100%…children need to experience failure in order to gain strength and make it in this tough world of ours. I had no idea some organized sports were not keeping score…WHAT?! Lame. Myabe we’re old school but I think it’s the BEST school. ;)

  9. I’m very interested in reading the book Kim recommended! I guess maybe some parents worry that if they wait too long to get their kids started they may miss some window?

    Wes just played tball this past spring: he was in a group of 4 and 5 year olds, under the umbrella “instructional tball” – they did NOT keep any kind of score or keep track of innings, etc. They just played for about an hour, every kid takes a turn, switch sides after every kid goes, etc. I can tell you that there is a bit of difference already between the young 4s and the older 5s, and their parents, too, and it seems the older ones are ready for more “serious” baseball? This was perfectly fine for us. Wes just mentioned he wanted to play baseball, and we just wanted to try it out.

    In our city’s leagues, the kids play instructional through age 5, then at age 6+ they start having to go to a try out of sorts. I’m not quite sure what this means actually. I know every kid who signs up on time and pays the small fee gets to play, but does this mean they try to balance out ability? Or does it mean there are better teams and worse teams?

    I’m not quite sure what our policy will be. Wesley has become really interested in his swimming lessons this summer and sees the kids in the junior swim team there all the time and says when he’s old enough he’ll join. They junior one is 2nd and 3rd graders, etc., and I have no idea if it’s competitive, how so, etc. Lots to think about!

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