But does it have to be a Medal?

Our soccer programming for 6, 7, 8 and 9-year-olds (i.e., Grassroots) is wrapping up this week. Like most clubs, we try to end the season on a really positive note by packing the last session with lots of good stuff. Things like the kids’ favourite activities, parents vs kids games, play with water, freezies (no barbecue this year…sorry folks) and, of course, medals.

And like any other club out there, through our actions in that wonderful last session of the season, we are saying to the players and their parents that we want to see you back again next outdoor season. We want you to feel that soccer is a great sport to come back to year after year.

So we go all out on that last day. Still, I hope the deal has already been sealed by that point. What we do on the last day shouldn’t be what pushes the soccer experience over the top for the kids and their parents. The last day is the icing on the cake so to speak. The cake should still be delicious, even without the icing. And I think this season the new recipe we used allowed us to whip up a tasty cake that would be hard to compete with.

Baking metaphors aside, we changed the Grassroots session format, provided consistent developmentally appropriate content for the coaches, provided certified coaches and trained helpers to lead the kids and topped that off with some top notch oversight from our excellent Grassroots Lead Coaches (Brittney, Louisa and Mary Cate). As I said, what we provided this season would have been hard to top or even match in most other Island clubs.

The quality of the program should speak for itself. But we still did something special for the last session. Well, not me. Brittney, Louisa and Mary Cate accompanied by all the helpers and coaches went all out. And that water obstacle course that Louisa came up with I think will have kids and parents talking for quite a while.

What I like about the direction the Club is going is the commitment that we have to making sure our members have a good time and get a high quality sport experience. We are raising the bar and gradually moving beyond the days of finding just enough people with a pulse, throwing them a bag of balls, wishing them good luck and telling them we’ll see them at the end of the season.

There are many different things that can be done to ensure a child has a good experience with soccer. Does a medal absolutely have to be one of those things?

What’s the problem with a medal? Well, maybe it’s a concern that rewarding children just for showing up is sending the wrong message about life in the real world. None of us get medals for showing up to work. However, we do get other extrinsic rewards like money or status or recognition. The thing is, if you find a job that you love then you’ll never work a day in your life or so goes that quote. While the extrinsic rewards may support our passion, it’s the internal feelings like pride, concern or stewardship that keep us doing what we really love to do.

So if it’s not an outright worry about making kids soft and entitled, then it could be about the intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation debate around achievement (i.e., the why do we choose to do the things we do debate). If we want kids to enjoy themselves it’s clear that grounding their reasons for participation in intrinsic values is the key to longer term participation. Children and youth have a variety of reasons for participating in sport. Some of those reasons may be extrinsically driven and some may be intrinsically driven. It’s not a bad strategy to offer a variety of things that tap into those different reasons for participation. That way every player can find something that floats their boat, or their ball I guess.

While I do agree that the key to long-term anything is through intrinsic means, this motivation debate isn’t the main reason either for questioning medals for participation.

The main reason? It’s the cost and the return on investment that medals provide. Medals aren’t cheap. There are usually quite a few kids playing soccer under the age of nine. The cost adds up quickly and that’s money that could be used to make the programming itself better — providing more types of equipment or providing more training and support for coaches and helpers.

With that said, I have to confess that the medals that we get for our Grassroots players we get for free. They come from that big Canadian coffee and donut company, along with jerseys and balls and represent the freebies that pretty much every club can offer to its youngest and newest members. Still, instead of medals, couldn’t we just get a cheque from the company for that amount that could be put towards improving the value of the programs over the entire season and not just on the last day of the program?

Alas, I don’t see that happening anytime soon…

And so for now, medals will continue to be handed out at this time of the year to the kids in our Grassroots program. For those of you out there that can relate to what I’ve written here and are asking what to do, I’d offer the following points for consideration with your own kids:

  • Reward things that promote intrinsic motivation for participation, like effort instead of ability level. We have control over our effort and effort can itself lead to increased ability. Or what about the kids that always assist with clean-up? Or that always remember to say thank you?
  • Participation — the experience itself — should be the reward.



Posts dedicated to informing and educating the members of the Eliot River Ramblers Soccer Club about player, coach, official and program development.

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Technical Ramblings

Posts dedicated to informing and educating the members of the Eliot River Ramblers Soccer Club about player, coach, official and program development.