Though James Harrison made an impression at linebacker in his 2015 debut for the Pittsburgh Steelers in its preseason tilt at Jacksonville Friday night, it was his comments as a parent that gained national attention.
That’s because we learned that Harrison is not a big fan of participation trophies – Something he was not shy letting the world know on his Instagram account on Saturday. If you missed the crux of the message, it was simple: My kids don’t get rewarded unless they earn it (I’m sorry, I meant EARN it).
It did not matter that the trophy came from close friend and former teammate Charlie Batch’s sports camp. That was beside the point to Harrison.
I understand where Harrison is coming from. He took the hard road to get to where he is today. Some forget he was a troubled youth who walked on at Kent State and then was cut multiple times long before becoming one of the best linebackers in the NFL.
He wants to make sure his kids understand this, and not think just because their Dad is an NFL star, that they can expect it to come easy.
My initial reaction was similar to a lot of fans and parents alike; recognition should be earned, not given out for simply being there. We have made a point of going overboard rewarding young athletes for “doing their best” or making sure that kids don’t feel “left out” if they don’t excel both as individuals and teams.
That has fed the growing narrative that “entitlement” rules the day and kids are not learning the proper life lessons through sports, and there is something to that notion, believe me. However, I also think that Harrison’s “stand” is not necessarily applicable to every situation, and we should be careful to not to paint our opinions with such broad strokes.
As a coach myself, I can see both sides. There’s a fine line between going overboard with recognition and understanding that sometimes it’s important to understand that there is more to sports than simply achieving excellence among your peers.
For nearly 20 years, I’ve been blessed to work with some outstanding athletes and teams as a coach. I’ve coached WPIAL and PIAA champions, and have been a part of teams that have have won team titles in the WPIAL. Some of the kids I’ve coached have gone on to college programs on scholarship, and continued to have success at that level.
Those achievements make me proud. I know the work that goes into setting goals and the sacrifices that go along with it. I applaud Harrison for making sure that his sons understand that, despite of the very public display of that “lesson.”
However, few of these athletes will compete beyond high school and even fewer will even come close to becoming a pro. Parents sometimes forget this as they seemingly push their kids harder all the time. The pressure is immense; children are pushed to join club soccer teams so they can become the next Megan Klingenberg or play baseball year round so they can be the next Neil Walker.
More often than not, these kids are not even teenagers yet.
Somewhere in all of this, the things that are truly important gets lost in translation. As a coach, many of my fondest memories have very little to do with wins or records, they have to do with the fun we had going through the process, regardless of what awards came of it. Many of the athletes I coached rarely won awards, but that did not matter, they learned more from the process than anything they would have gotten from a trophy.
Nothing is more rewarding than talking to a former athlete and hearing about the success they are having in life. When they refer to something they got taught about life on the playing field, it reminds me of what is really important.
Hopefully that was the point Mr. Harrison was trying to make, and one that parents should never forget themselves.