There is More to Life than Participation Medals

Last weekend an organization I am actively involved with held an event to honor individuals who had helped make a recent keynote event a success.

In addition to providing each of the attendees with a hot lunch of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs with all of the trimmings, we were each presented with a certificate as a token of thanks for our efforts that helped make the event a success.

They could have easily stopped with just the hamburgers and hot dogs, but the inclusion of individualized certificates was certainly a nice gesture on the part of the organization.

When I looked at the certificate though I noticed some wording that I had not expected.

Instead of it being a certificate of appreciation, the certificate was worded as a certificate of participation.

While it is true that each of us participated in the event I had never really seen a certificate worded that way and was more accustomed to receiving a certificate of appreciation. In fact the certificate the organization gave out for the previous year’s event was worded as a certificate of appreciation.

Of course, at the end of the day, it did not really matter what word was placed on the certificate since I know that all of the hard work was appreciated with or without a piece of paper saying so. It was a nice gesture and my name was spelled correctly so I am definitely not complaining.

The certificate did raise some interesting general observations about appreciation versus participation and how they relate to sports and society as a whole though.

Consider the world of Major League Baseball where nine players participate on the field and in the batting order. Despite all of them participating in the game a quick scan around the grandstands shows that a few of them are appreciated by the fans more than the rest.

If Major League Baseball, and other sports for that matter, were set up in an all are equal manner, there would not be fans dressed in a certain player’s jersey and cheering louder when they came up to bat or made a great play.

If professional baseball was run like some youth leagues no one would keep score and players would be appreciated equally just for showing up at the Ballpark each day. Photo R. Anderson
If professional baseball was run like some youth leagues no one would keep score and players would be appreciated equally just for showing up at the Ballpark each day.
Photo R. Anderson

Instead, everyone would be wearing team jerseys without a player name on the back and cheering equally for everyone from the 12-time All-Star to the 12-year journeyman when they came up to bat.

Of course that is not the case. The stars of the sport get the big contracts, endorsement deals and screaming fans while the rest of the players are just happy to be on the ball club.

That is not to say that all of the other participants on a team are not important. Even the biggest superstars in the sport need a team around them to succeed, but the fact remains certain players on every team rise up above the rest and are appreciated more than their teammates.

While professional sports continues to show that some players are worth more to a team and its fan base then others, amateur sports seem to be going in an entirely different direction.

I am of course referring to the participation medal which has made its way into youth sports. The idea behind a participation medal is that everyone, regardless of talent, should be recognized for their participation in said sport instead of medals only going to a couple of people. Some youth sports have even stopped keeping score in games so that there are no winners or losers at the end of the game.

If one never feels the agony of defeat in life how can they appreciate the highs of success?

A few years back I participated in a 5k event where each person received a shirt and a medal just for showing up. Medals were also available for certain categories once the event started. While I could have just decided that a medal for showing up was good enough, I worked hard, fought through some leg cramps, and was rewarded with a second place medal for my classification.

A few years back I took part in a 5k where everyone who showed up received the medal at the top. I earned the medal at the bottom through hard work and sweat and to me it is much more valuable than the other medal because it is something earned and not just handed to me. To much of society today seems to settle for just the showing up medal. Photo R. Anderson
A few years back I took part in a 5k where everyone who showed up received the medal at the top. I earned the medal at the bottom through hard work and sweat and to me it is much more valuable than the other medal because it is something earned and not just handed to me. To much of society today seems to settle for just the showing up medal.
Photo R. Anderson

This is not being mentioned in any way to toot my own horn or suggest that I am a great 5k athlete. I am not. I was just successful on that particular day and just as easily could have fallen out of contention on any other day.

The point of the story is I tried for more knowing there was a chance that I would not succeed in my quest for a podium finish.

While I understand that some people were happy just getting a medal and a t-shirt, even though I was huffing and puffing at the end of the race, the second place medal I earned felt much better around my neck than if I had just settled for the one everyone else received.

One could certainly spend hours debating whether this move to the philosophy of everyone gets a medal actually creates a weaker society by dulling the competitive edge and rewarding all regardless of level of effort thereby creating a world where no one keeps score and everyone gets orange slices at the end of the game; and many people have. Personally I think the reward everyone approach weakens society and I am very concerned that we will just settle on participating as a way of life.

This country was built on the backs of men and women who did more than just participate. They innovated and they strived to excel in various fields while never settling for good enough and understanding that sometimes failure is an option that one can learn from and come back stronger as a result.

For that example of people doing more than merely participating, and realizing that the juice is worth the squeeze, I will be forever appreciative. I just hope that the spirit of innovation and being willing to fail does not get lost by a generation raised on the philosophy that they will be rewarded just for showing up and someone else will always be there to cut their orange slices for them.

I am sure that the people who chose to put participate on the certificates last weekend had no idea about the debate it would cause, but it certainly was a good stepping off point for some societal retrospection.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am suddenly craving some fresh squeezed orange juice.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

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