Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Few Thoughts on Sports Awards...

As written before, I'm a glutton for awards. At the end of every season, I look forward to reading which athletes earned first, second, third team all-league as well as honorable mention. #Proud. I am often excited for the World Series to end because I want to know who will be named the AL and NL MVP, manager of the year, Cy Young winner, and what Giant earned a Golden Glove. I agree with the masses who believe the Heisman award is overhyped, but I still make a point of catching the ceremony. Sports Illustrated's Sportsperson of the Year is but a few weeks away. This Thanksgiving holiday, instead of politics, consider talking to friends and family about athletic awards...who got what...deserved and undeserved. It might be safer....then again, maybe not.
As a coach, I have had to designate and administer my fair share of awards over the years. At their best, an award—in its many iterations—serves as the shining example of the intersection of objective and subjective truth. The athlete who truly deserves the highest award in a program: most improved, the coaches' award, etc can and should be self-evident. And, I would like to believe more often than not, the honorees are deserving. Over the years, I have made mistakes and strange as it sounds, this type of error haunts me. But, I have taken great delight in "getting it right." So, this blog will serve as a few thoughts on giving and receiving awards and a shout out to one of my favorite awards.

How you know you've got it right
I believe there are a few ways a coach knows that he or she has recognized the right athlete for an award. 

It starts with a gut reaction. Typically, you will visualize the intended winner right away. Stay with the hunch...follow up on it. For example, this year one of my two honorees, was slightly unconventional. I thought she deserved one of the two coaches' award for numerous reasons. In following up on my suspicion, I confirmed that she was the medalist (first place finisher) in four of our ten league matches. A lot of girls on the team might have been surprised by that stat because she was quiet in victory. Regardless, her successes and her spirit made her one of the two ideal choices. 
Girls' Golf Banquet
Second, the speech a coach must write to accompany a given award should come easily. If a coach works hard to justify their choice or there's a trace of defense in supporting the decision, it's worth reconsidering. While researching times, stats, points etc is always a discipline, it's necessary to support the narrative—one that with the objective and subjective material, should be easy to sing.

Third, the reaction of the team is audio and visual confirmation that you got it right. When you do, teammates are just as excited if not more than the honoree; this fact is hard to hide. Young people aren't the best at hiding their emotions. In this instance, I am always glad they're not!

Fourth, though not always a given, when the truly deserving athlete wins the highest award in a program, the conversation is far from over. These athletes have written e-mails, letters and had conversations with my fellow coaches and me to tell us how much the award means to them. They say "thank you;" they mean it. 
Awards invite inspiration, respect, honor, and glory. They are accompanied by memories and stories. An athlete earns an award because their achievements over a season create a story that needs to be articulated and shared. Their story needs to be heard and remembered. One of my favorite stories involves our boys' volleyball team.

Too often the low sport on the totem pole of spring sports, the boys' varsity team beat their league rival in the Central Coast Section championship game. In a true David beat Goliath moment, this team won because, as Aristotle wrote,  "the whole was greater than the sum of its parts." When it came time for the coaches' award (usually two for a team this size), the coaches could not decide. They turned to our principal and said, they sincerely believed every player on the team deserved the award. Our principal, in all of his true generosity, said, then let's award the team. Every boy received the handsome plaque that said St. Ignatius Varsity Boys' Volleyball Coaches Award. Their feat and that award have not happened since. What a great story to tell the team at the beginning of each season.

How you might get it wrong
First, I do not advise giving an award for the sake of tradition or formality. If there is no deserving party, why give it? I am more and more convinced that the adage "less is more" is both a subjective and objective truth.

Quite often, people often complain that we live in a day and an age when everyone wins an award. Awards have significance because the honoree is deserving, not because everybody is deserving. As written about above, there may be times when the entire team does deserve the award, but I think it smart to let superlatives be well... superlative. 

Second, criteria for an award exists for a reason. Use it wisely....but to disregard it entirely compromises the award. For example, some awards call into consideration both athletic performance and character. To turn a blind eye to character because an athletes accomplishments were extraordinary is more than unfortunate, it's wrong.

Lastly, admit that you might get it wrong. I have made choices with the best of intentions. I aim to get to the center of the x and y-axis of awardage....but we all miss the mark. Please share your thoughts on the matter with me!

Tomorrow, I will post on one of the greatest awards...and award I think you SHOULD discuss at the Thanksgiving meal. 

Recent Awardees
MLB List is here
West Catholic Athletic League 2016-2017 All-League Athletes

MY pick for Sports Illustrated's Sportsperson of the Year
The 2016 Chicago Cubs

Photo Credits

Hank Aaron Award
Bryce Harper

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