No Trophies for the Runner-Up.

photo (5)Once again my team won the Masters League (40 and over) Basketball Championship. It’s a Thursday night league at the local JCC with a bunch of middle aged has-beens and never wases. I’m in the latter camp. Unlike our Championship from last year, (see The Thrill of Victory) my contributions were very modest. Play defense. Rebound. Score a little. Alas, that’s the best I can do. Our star player, Kevin Williams, was phenomenal. He carried us all year, made the final shot in the Championship and without him, we would have not even been close. I love playing with Kevin.

In an over 40 league, we are all “managing the slope of the decline”. The good news for me is that I didn’t start at a lofty peak and therefore the slope of decline is not as severe. You can’t fall far if you were never really good to begin with.

Our brand of basketball is “basketball lite” at best. Side to side full court on a 70-foot court. But there are refs, clock, scorekeepers, etc. There are all the trappings of basketball except talented players. No one is playing “above the rim”. We’re lucky to touch the bottom of the net.

Regardless, I love winning and hate losing. Interestingly in business, I miss little from my life as an ad agency head in the 90s (5 things I Miss & Don’t About Running an Ad Agency) other than “game day”– I loved the pitch…and the call that we won. There is no solace in coming in second. Nothing like winning to fuel the psyche and give one the self-confidence to try again. The same is true in sports.

That’s why I don’t get what’s happening in youth sports today. In youth leagues, there are trophies given for second place, and even just for “participating”.

What the heck is that about?

Don’t get me wrong, participation is great. You can’t win without playing. But sports teaches you there are winners and there are those who don’t win (sorry, they are called losers). Celebrating a “good try” is nice, but alas lame. It diminishes the real thrill of being a Champion. I remember the few times as a kid when we were Champions. The feeling is great. It still is thrilling. Nothing like it.

That’s one of the reasons I love the Yankees so much (there he goes again about the Yankees, you say). The New York Yankees are 27-time Champions. They do celebrate being 40-time AL pennant winners, which they also are. There are no pictures, banners, memorabilia about the almost-wins at Yankee Stadium. There were damn good Yankees teams that fell short too—1960 and 2001 were prime examples. But they were not Champions.

I am not a gung-ho type that celebrates winning at all cost either. Certainly youth sports teaches teamwork, collaboration, humility in defeat as well as victory, and the dignity of effort. All valuable life lessons. But effort and results are not the same…in business, in life and in sports.

But please, trophies are for the Champions only. Spare us the second place recognition. Just play another day and try to win the next time, and then celebrate. Nothing like winning.

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