One of the big news stories of the past week revolved around James Harrison, the pro football player who launched a national debate when he announced that he had made his young sons return sports participation trophies they had received because he felt they rewarded involvement, as opposed to actual accomplishment.

Harrison got a fair share of “atta boys” from certain corners, but he also caught no small amount of flack from others who apparently felt that his decision fell just short of being some form of child abuse. One of the most irate objections was that voiced in an editorial published in USA Today: “Older generations always find something to harrumph about in younger generations... The trophies cost a few bucks for a big smile. They do not cost trauma in later life. Woody Allen famously said 80 percent of success is showing up.”

With all due respect to USA Today, there’s another, more famous quote which states that success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. In other words, you have to WORK for it. And the day I turn to the likes of Woody Allen for parenting advice is the day it’s time for me turn in my lightsaber and charter my boat ride to the Gray Havens. (How’s THAT for mixing my pop culture metaphors, fellow science fiction/fantasy fans?)

Longtime readers of this publication know that we as an entity - and I as an individual - have been lucky enough to pick up a few awards for our endeavors over the years. I have always said - and I will say again now - that I didn't get into the business to win awards, and that anyone who has chosen a particular career simply in hope of earning awards has done so for the wrong reason. I’m a big believer in the idea that doing a job you love is reward in itself, and that awards are merely icing on the cake.

That said, I won’t deny that I like it when I do earn such awards. Because it means that I have in some way excelled, and that the end result of a particular assignment was worth whatever hard work and sacrifice I may have made along the way. This is true of any award, whether it be for an article I wrote for the newspaper or an MVP designation for an athlete or an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy or Tony Award given for an acting or musical performance.

Some people view participation awards as a way of giving children recognition they might not otherwise receive. Perhaps that was the original intent, and it’s not in itself such a bad sentiment. But experience and observation have taught me that the ultimate effect of such “awards” seems to have actually been to rob children - not all children, but perhaps, but enough of them (and even one is one too many) - of any real incentive to work hard and strive for achieving something worthwhile. 

And frankly I just don’t think that’s a very good lesson to impart to our youngsters.

I’ve always supported my sons in their various endeavors, and nobody - well, with the possible exception of their mother - is prouder than I am when they succeed. And when they may not succeed, but I know that they have worked hard and done the best they possibly could, I am STILL proud of them. And they know that. 

But I want them to feel that they have earned whatever success they achieve in life. Not that it is owed to them simply for having showed up. Because life just does not work that way. 

Take it from a guy whose failures in life outnumber his successes, but still refuses to give up…

(Copyright 2015 by John Allen Small)