Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Participation Awards

Before Ella took up a sport, I was really down on participation awards.  In fact, the first time she received one, I was leery about it.  I had heard that participation awards make kids feel entitled--make them feel like the world owes them success.

That may be true of some kids, but not of mine.  Over the past two years I've watched her rack up almost two dozen participation certificates, and what I've witnessed is a growing pride in how far she's come.
We keep her certificates in a binder.  She looks back at them from time to time and rather than causing her to feel that she deserves success, each certificate prompts her to reflect on the event where she received it, think about how it went and consider how it might go now that she has grown in size and skill. 

She flips thru her binder and remembers fondly her very first karate seminar, only a month after her first class--a time when she was so new to karate that she didn't know how to tie her belt, and that the senseis gave her some extra help, and it encouraged her to keep trying.

Another certificate reminds her of the time when Renzo Gracie wiped her tears and gently pressed her to keep going--how his faith in her gave her the strength to give it another try.  She jiggles all the archery tags she so recently earned and thinks about how she kept loading her bow and shooting another arrow, wiping her tears and tucking her hankie into her waistband between shots, because she was sure if she just kept going she'd get a bulls-eye.  She looks at "diplomas" Rudi and I have awarded at the end of each school year and reminisces on what she has learned so far and what she is looking forward to in the next grade.

And I remember the lesson that Bill "Superfoot" Wallace gave me when I confided that I was beginning to be concerned about all the tears and frustrations:  "A lot of parents think that if their kids get mad when they are learning, it will turn into a character flaw, but if you just give it 10 minutes it will pass."

Mainly what I have learned is that in the case of my own child, participation awards serve as an historical record of her life.  They mark moments when she did something important to her development--it might not have been winning, but it was nonetheless a moment that shaped who she is today and who she continues to become.  The awards bear witness to a challenge met and a struggle engaged--to courage in the face of the unknowable future--to trying again.  I'm all for them now, and I'll be handing them out with joy from here on.

Archery tournament score card:  CHECK.
Hankie for wiping tears during said tournament:  CHECK

Ribbon to display with pride, showing that her participation was
honorable and worthy of mention:  DOUBLE CHECK

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