There are a lot of people out there who think that participation trophies in youth sports have played a big role in making the millennial generation “useless and entitled.” After all, why put in any effort to win if you know you’re going to get a nice piece of plastic at the end regardless? When I think about the any negative impact that trophies caused in my life, one award particularly comes to mind, and it’s not the coed baseball participation trophy I received for picking grass in the outfield and striking out every single at bat.
a judo contest
This was Jiu-Jitsu rather than Judo, but the Shiai was a yearly fighting tournament at my dojo with a single elimination bracket. Considering the students at the competition ranged from 1st graders to high schoolers, we had to be separated into different divisions based on size and skill. To make things fair, right? I was excited, expecting that I would be able to compete against my usual training partners, Nick, Danny, and Hunter. We would finally get to see who was deserving of bragging rights among our tight-knit training group. Nick was typically the best of us, because his dad did Jiu-Jitsu too. Nick ended up being a counterpunching Floyd Mayweather before any of use even knew who Floyd Mayweather was. But I had been doing better in my sparring matches lately, and I was ready for that faceoff. That was, until I looked at the divisions.
Nick, Danny, and Hunter were in the same division, as expected… But I was placed two divisions lower, with smaller and younger people. I was a green belt, and they were all orange or worse. The only name I recall from that group was Elizabeth Toro, and I instantly knew I didn’t belong in that group. She was good, but she was a small little girl. I already knew that it was going to be the two of us in the finals.
I did weigh less than my three training partners, but it still didn’t make any sense. I should have at least been in the division below them. I was at least half a head taller than the next biggest competitor, and had much longer reach, which was huge in these kinds of fights. They obviously weren’t going to let a bunch of kids beat the crap out of each other, so we all wore plenty of protective gear, and the fight would end after a certain number of clean connections. And for good reason. If this was a no-holds-barred fight, I would’ve killed every single one of them. I think in the 3 or 4 fights I had before the finals, I had like a total of 2 punches land on me. I was a monster. I was way too big for my competition, and Elizabeth was a fan favorite and made short work of her opponents as well. To nobody’s surprise, it was us in the finals. As I said, she was good. She got a few punches on me, but in the end, I destroyed her, because it simply wasn’t fair.
There’s an awards ceremony, I get the biggest trophy of my life, and then I sit there and watch Nick beat the crap out of Hunter in the finals and he gets awarded an even bigger trophy than me.
“I would’ve killed you too,” I told Nick. After seeing what he did to Hunter, I didn’t truly believe it, but hey, I had a first place trophy and Hunter didn’t.