Generational Welfare – EVERYBODY Loves the Trophies….

Kris Dunn Generations, Kris Dunn

You’ve heard the conventional wisdom that Gen Y and kids today are/will be damaged goods in the workplace due to an over-abundance of praise from their parents.  The easiest symbol for this over-abundance of praise?  The fact that everybody got a trophy for participating, everyone was a winner when the Y’s were growing up. 

Here’s an alternative view – the trophies were/are more for the parents than the kids.  From Tammy Erickson at Harvard Business via e-BIM:

"One of today’s popular data points on Gen Y is the number of trophies that were handedTrophies out at a typical little kids’ soccer match or softball game. Commentators are quick to observe that a lot of kids got a lot trophies (boy, manufacturing those cheap, gold plastic loving cups must have been a great business in the 1990s) and jump to the conclusion that Gen Y’s as young adults are in constant need of praise and reassurance.

Okay, let me ask again: who got the trophies? Who desperately wanted the trophies? Who purchased the trophies to hand them out to all his or her friends – oops, that is, friends’ children?

I think the major movers behind the great trophy scam were the parents. Boomer parents.

As I’ve said before, Boomers love to win. I sometimes think you could put a bow around just about anything and give it to a Boomer as a prize, and they’ll be pleased. (Okay, let me come clean: I’ll be pleased – I’m a Boomer, too. Prizes are very high on my “these are a few of my favorite things” list.)"

I’m no generational expert, but I’m a dad and have coached many youth sports teams.  So, I guess I’m an authority when it comes to the the impact of trophies in youth sport leagues.

Three observations from the Gen X camp that is casa Dunn:

1.  Even at an earlier age, you have a feel for the kids who are naturally driven internally.  They’re the grinders, the competitors.  Regardless of their skill level, it’s all zero sum to the "grinders".  They’re keeping score, and have opinions on who the winners are.  My take is they’re wired the same way when they enter the workforce. 

2.  At a young age, the trophies really don’t matter to the kids.  Neither does the score.  They’ve got about a thousand interests and the game they’re playing occupies their mind for only a brief time period.  They’re kids.  Except for the grinders – it matters to them, and if they’re doing well, they hate it that the other kids are getting trophies for not being as good as them.  Human Nature 101…  They’ll be the forced ranking crew once they get to the workplace.

3. (Here’s the big agreement with Tammy).  If there weren’t trophies for all kids at the younger levels of youth sports, there would be fistfights among parents.  The trophies offer up a way for parents to feel that things are going OK, even if it’s been a rough season.  A symbol that allows them to praise their kid and encourage.  Take that away, and it would be anarchy….

So that’s my GenX coaching/kids/trophy perspective.   We’ve carried on where the boomers left off, and every kid gets a trophy, and a game ball during the season, to boot.  It beats medicating the parents…

Won’t it be fun to see if GenY goes hardcore the other way with their kids and withholds trophies to non-performers?  How crazy would that be? 

PS – All the young kids care about (other than the grinders) is the snack at the end of each game.  Think snow cone in the Brian Regan clip below….      

Kris Dunn

Kris Dunn is a Partner and CHRO at Kinetix, a national RPO firm for growth companies headquartered in Atlanta. He’s also the founder Fistful of Talent (founded in 2008) and The HR Capitalist (2007) – and has written over 70 feature columns at Workforce Management magazine. Prior to his investment at Kinetix, Kris served in HR leadership roles at DAXKO, Charter and Cingular. In his spare time, KD hits the road as a speaker and gives the world what it needs – pop culture references linked to Human Capital street smarts.