Santa Claus and Soccer Trophies

My kids and I were in the car on the way home from a soccer game (A game our team got pounded on.  Think the 1985 Bears vs Patriots in the Superbowl kind of pounding. In fact, I think I even saw the Fridge score a goal on us.) and my daughter said to me, “Daddy, even though we lost, I still think we’re going to get a trophy.  I mean, I’ve gotten a trophy every year since I started playing. (If only the Philadelphia Eagles were to be so fortunate) We’ll get trophies right Daddy?”

The dreaded “…right Daddy?”.  That simple question has brought on more than one white lie.  “Grandmom said Princess went to a farm to play, right Daddy?”  “Santa Claus is real, right Daddy?”.

Before I answered her I ran a quick check in my head.  Hannah was right. Every year she played soccer, despite winless seasons and seasons played without a goalie, my daughter has recieved a small gold painted trophy with her name on it.  But Hannah is 8 now.  Maybe it was time to let her know that this year, maybe she wouldn’t be getting that annual trophy?

When I was a kid, the team with the best record got the trophy.  The teams that had players who ran to 3rd base after hitting the ball were lucky if they got a party with the little vanilla and chocolate ice cream cups.  I played on a lot of summer baseball teams and only once was I apart of a trophy winning team. That would be the 1982 Antietam Rec Center White Sox who were an astounding 8-0-1.  Mr. Charles, our coach, got us trophies at the end of the year. A trophy I still have in a box somewhere in a closet in my house.  As for the other teams? They had to hope next summer they didn’t have any kids who picked their noses instead of playing Centerfield.

That was twenty eight years ago though.  The reality of today is we live in a world where teachers grade with colors and ‘Meets Recommended Level’ instead of A’s, B’s, and (for some) D’s.  No one fails a grade.  Parents don’t want to “lie” to their kids about the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus’ existence so they let them in on the secret and every sports season, for every kid, ends with a trophy.

Some might say we are rewarding mediocre performance. Some suggest it is in the kids’ best interest to learn about the agony of defeat.   But is a trophy that bad?

Sure, the school grading scale bugs me but I have no control over the grades (I read up on this and it would seem Texas and California have a lot of influence in school matters which should make us all shudder a little bit about the future of education.).  I do however have control over my kids still believing I have to leave a house key under our welcome mat on the front porch on Christmas Eve so Santa Claus can get in to our house (file that under things you need to do when you have kids but no chimney).  As their soccer coach, I do have control over whether or not they get a trophy at the end of their season.

Rewarding mediocrity? Being cheered undeservedly? Maybe, but isn’t rewarding, even our kids’ smallest achievements, the job of any parent? My wife and I cheered my daughter pooping in her diaper after 3 very long, very constipated days.  I roared for my youngest daughter when I asked her to pick up the square block and she did (after 5 tries).  My life as a parent has been one of unfluctuating enthusiasm for anything my kids do.

There is enough outside of my reach waiting to penetrate my girls’ positive self-esteem force field their mother and I have worked so hard to craft. They don’t need their mother and father telling them the only one coming on Christmas Eve is their mom and dad (and we hate warm milk and cookies), the Tooth Fairy is my very stealthy wife,  or only “winners” get trophies.

Am I pushing away reality for my daughters?  Probably.  But they are my kids and I never thought, after 8 and 5 years worth of teaching both of them, my job of teaching them was over.  When the time comes, my wife and I will explain why we lied to them about Santa.  And we’ll explain to them, when the time comes, that only winning teams gets trophies.

So instead of turning the radio up or diverting the girls’ attention away from the “…right Daddy?” question, I told Hannah,

“You bet you’ll get a trophy.” In the rearview mirror, I saw her smile and I knew I had given her the right answer.

Because a part of being a kid (and their parent) is being able to think (and let them think) Santa Claus needs our house key on Christmas Eve and at the end of a season, regardless of the record, they’ll be getting their soccer trophy.

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