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Parents plague youth sports more than participation trophies

So now we know what's wrong with kids these days: Trophies. Steelers linebacker James Harrison thinks so. He refused to keep trophies given to his sons, ages 6 and 8, for participating in a youth league. Harrison wrote on Instagram: "While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I'm sorry I'm not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned, and I'm not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best." Harrison isn't alone. An HBO Real Sports feature last month suggested we are raising a generation of spoiled, entitled, arrogant brats because we award them with trophies just for showing up, even if they finish last. Many out there agree. This is crazy.

Youth leagues have been giving out trophies forever, yet there are plenty of hard-working, responsible adults who don't think the world owes them anything just because they were handed a trophy for striking out every time when they were 8 years old.

Youth sports are wonderful. They teach commitment, dedication, hard work, teamwork, sacrifice, dealing with failure and success. They take children with no friends who might otherwise sit alone on a couch eating chips and playing video games and put them with other kids running around in the fresh air.

In the end, if we hand them a trophy that celebrates them doing their best even if they can't play all that well, isn't that a good thing? Is Harrison (and anyone who agrees with him) saying that nothing is accomplished if you don't win? What's wrong with a trophy that reminds a little guy that he had the courage to risk failure and embarrassment to stand in a batter's box when he could barely swing a bat?

A trophy is a tangible, daily reminder to every kid who could use a confidence boost. And if you don't think a 7-year-old could use a pat on the back every now and again, then you have completely forgotten what it was like to be 7 years old.

And, hey, maybe that little trophy will encourage them to play again next year.

Tell you what. Call up your local youth league and find out when it is handing out trophies. Go watch the face of a little guy when he is handed his first trophy, then tell me it doesn't have an uplifting effect, especially for a kid who doesn't get that positive reinforcement at home.

Let's also give our children a little more credit. They're smarter than we think. They know when they don't win. They know when they stink. When they are 32 years old and don't get the promotion at work, it will have nothing to do with that ribbon they got for finishing eighth in the 100-yard dash back in grade school.

This isn't Apple or IBM or JP Morgan Chase for goodness' sake. It's T-ball!

I have nothing against winning. I'm all for keeping score and giving the biggest trophies to the kids who win the championship. But to say we shouldn't give trophies to a team that doesn't win, aren't we also saying that youth sports are only about winning? Is that the lesson we are trying to teach our kids? That if you don't win, you don't really accomplish anything?

Come to think of it, I'm not even willing to concede that today's young people feel any more entitled than previous generations. Every generation believes the one that follows has it easier and better without having really worked for it.

But even if today's generation is entitled, it's not because of a trophy.

Instead of blaming the local Little League for giving your kid a $2.59 hunk of plastic, maybe you should look at the $38,000 brand new SUV that you bought him for turning 16. Instead of chalking up your daughter's issues to that ribbon and cheap medal for showing up to every swim meet, maybe you ought to think about that $1,500 dress in the closet that she "just had to have'' for prom. Maybe it isn't that soccer participation plaque on the wall but the big-screen TV in their bedroom with DirecTV, PlayStation and Netflix hooked up to it.

Trophies don't spoil kids. Parents spoil kids.

Oh, youth sports have plenty of problems. But trophies don't lead the list.

It's the emphasis on winning. It's putting the Little League World Series on national television. It's putting a 12-year-old girl on the cover of Sports Illustrated because she can strike out other 12-year-olds.

Winning has become paramount.

It's why a team from Harlem once snuck a 14-year-old onto a 12-year-old baseball team. It's why a Little League team from Chicago improperly recruited kids from outside its district.

And it's why, just this week, a Little League softball team lost on purpose to avoid playing another team that could beat it. We all jeered as that softball team from Washington intentionally lost one game to greatly improve its chances to win the entire tournament. We criticized its unfair play and poor sportsmanship.

Well, we can't have it both ways. We can't say kids don't deserve trophies unless they win, then complain when a team does everything it can to win.

Here's a solution that would solve everyone's problems:

How about we get the kids together, give them some equipment and a place to play, then walk away. We take the cameras and the trophies and our complicated rules with us and leave them to it to figure it all out.

Bet the kids would have a pretty good time without the adults there to mess it up.