Bryce Harper plays to win at all times, and that’s admirable. He takes far too much criticism for simply caring; there’s nothing veteran baseball players (and writers) hate more than an incredibly talented young player.

So it pains me to do this, but I have to take Harper to task a little bit for a recent talk he gave some baseball-playing youths:

“No participation trophies, okay? First place only.”

Now that fits with everything we know about Bryce Harper, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear him espouse that viewpoint. It’s certainly a nice buzzword cause online as well, with a certain brand of individual (normally middle-aged white guy, but sometimes just middle-aged guy) decrying “participation trophy culture” as either a cause for the downfall of generations of children, as though handing out a participation trophy is why millenials-or-younger people are just the worst. (Heck, Harper’s statement garners wide applause at that gathering.)

First of all, we’re not the worst! But second of all, that entire mindset equates two entirely separate concepts. Trying to win is obviously important. Sports are inherently competitive, and learning how to work towards a goal and achieve it in the face of very literal opposition is an important skill. It’s a brutally competitive world out here. But learning to lose is just as important, and the lessons you can take away from that are perhaps more often applicable to everyday life.

So when leagues don’t keep score, or declare winners or losers, that’s kind of silly. The kids know the score, and it’s highly unlikely that a kid at an age to understand the concept of score is going to be hoodwinked by a lack of an official tally. Ostensibly that kind of rule exists to ensure no one has a bad time, or feels bad about losing, but hey, kids know. And if they don’t understand a score, then it doesn’t matter if there is one.

But rewarding failure is not what a participation trophy does. It rewards, you guessed it, participation, and that is something that absolutely should be rewarded. It’s easy to think that every kid plays baseball, but that’s not the case at all! Plenty of kids aren’t willing to participate, and the kids that are should be rewarded, even if they’re not successful on the field. Hell, especially if they’re not successful on the field; you think any kid who is terrible at sports isn’t aware of that fact? That they’d be brave enough to walk on the field and try in front of a crowd says something, and we should be applauding those kids.

Most kids junk participation trophies anyway, because they don’t need or care about that kind of affirmation. But that doesn’t make them not worthwhile, because trying, and participating, and making an effort are all key skills for more than just youth sports. Keep score, yes, for sure. But that a kid is willing to try, or even that he or she tried despite being originally afraid or unwilling, is far from nothing.

About Jay Rigdon

Jay is a writer and editor for The Comeback, and a contributor at Awful Announcing. He is not a strong swimmer.