I Gave Participation Trophies To Kids Who Didn’t Want Them

I coached youth soccer for a decade. I coached in a recreational league where the goal was to teach the game of soccer. Other goals included teaching kids how to be part of a team, sportsmanship, and how to handle winning and losing with grace.

One year, I had a team that didn’t win a single game. I felt bad about it. I felt as if I had failed as a coach. Towards the end of the season, I picked up a few of the kids to drive them to a game in our van. They were doing their usual travel chatter when I interrupted and asked, “Does it bother you guys we haven’t won a single game this season?”

They were quiet for a moment, then one kid spoke up and said, “It would be nice to win at least one game, but it doesn’t really bother me.” The other boys around him agreed. They’d enjoyed themselves and had fun. It bothered me that one kid was my son. I had hoped he was more competitive, but this was one of those moments where you have to realize this isn’t about you.

I kept telling myself that to make myself feel better as a coach; if they were having fun, then that was the point of playing rec league soccer.

Our club has a big event at the end of every season. Rec teams of all ages would gather at the fields for the last big get together. There were bounce houses, concession stands, and other fun activities for families. It was a good time.

As a coach, it was time to say goodbye to my team. We normally gathered together for a few moments, my kids and their parents. I said nice things about the season; what a joy it was to have all of them on my team, and thanking their parents for the opportunity to coach their kids. I meant this every year; in my decade of coaching, I experienced very few problems with either kids or parents. I would point out how much a particular kid improved, or how well our goalies played. I tried to find something good to say about each of them.

My last act of the season was handing out the participation trophies. I didn’t think too much about it. Each kid would walk up, I’d hand them a trophy, and we’d say goodbye. What I discovered was there were three distinct types of interactions involving the participation trophies:

The first type of kid, the most common, grabbed the trophy without a thought, as if they’d been given a bottle of water.

The second type would stop, look at the participation trophy for a moment, then look at me as if to wonder why they were getting a trophy when they didn’t win a championship.

Then there’s the third type who doesn’t want the trophy at all. They have to be forced to take it. At the end of the losing season, I had one kid who looked at me and then asked out loud, “Why are you giving this to me?”

I continued to hold the trophy out to him.

“I am required to hand these out at the end of the season.”

“We didn’t win anything.”

I looked at him firmly and said, “You have to take this trophy because if you don’t, I’ll have to take it home and I already have enough of them filling up my garage.”

He hesitated. I thrust the trophy at him.

He shrugged, gave me a look, and took the trophy. He had to have realized in that moment we were both at odds with the universe and there wasn’t a damned thing we could do about it other than play along.

Kids are smarter than we think. They understand what’s going on. They fully understand they’re trapped in a world run by adults who come up with all the rules. They’re required to follow them no matter how dumb they are.

One year we were told to not keep score. The kids I coached that year were five or six years old. I didn’t explicitly tell them we weren’t keeping score, it just came out in the middle of a game. One kid looked at me, and said, “What’s the score?”, to which I responded, “We’re not keeping score.” One of the other kids said, “It’s 4–2.” He didn’t have to add “the other team is winning” because all the kids knew that on account of them not being stupid. For the rest of the season, I didn’t keep score. I didn’t have to. Whenever an adult would emphasize we weren’t keeping score, the kids who kept score would ignore them. They knew who won their games and what the score was.

It’s not as if adults don’t give participation trophies to themselves.

I did the BTN 10K earlier this year. It was a struggle. I had a widowmaker heart attack in 2015, was dead for over 20 minutes. Part of my heart is dead. For me to do a 10K and finish is a triumph. I could do a 10k with my wife at any moment in time, but I signed up to do the BTN 10k because I could get the shirt and the silly towel for $20 and tell others about it. I know that there are other people who do 5Ks, 10Ks, and marathons who will wear those shirts so they can show off. They didn’t win the race. They may have beat a personal goal, then told themselves they won, but those shirts are their participation trophies.

Participation trophies have caught the ire of many because they are the physical manifestation of what we see as misguiding youth by giving them rewards without having earned them. Those trophies will destroy the world as we know it. 

It’s odd how we place so much blame for the world’s problems on insignificant objects. Participation trophies. Plastic straws. Bathrooms. Taking a knee. It’s as if we realize taking on genuine problems is a lot harder than we’re willing to admit. It might involve sacrifice, which sounds bad. Perhaps we should ask some kids about it. 

The next generation will be fine. Those kids I coached will turn into adults; the ones who questioned why they were given trophies without merit will probably be their leaders. Those participation trophies I handed out will do little to destroy the world. They’ll be trinkets that a kid took home to set on his shelf for a couple years. It’ll end up in the trash or his Mom will save it, then he’ll find in a box 30 years from now and remember the season he had and the other kids he played soccer with. Perhaps he’ll even remember me.

I’ve still got 30 in my garage if you want one.

How Little Jimmy Raschke from Nebrasky Became Baron Von Raschke The Star

This is the story of how a man found success by becoming someone else.

A few years ago, I attended an annual golf outing at a university in Nebraska alumni event in Minnesota. Mike Rozier was the guest speaker. Rozier is a Heisman Trophy winner and famous amongst those who follow college football as heavily as I do. I don’t golf, so I typically sit in the clubhouse and wait for the golfers to return, at which point we have dinner and listen to the featured speaker.
Sitting in the clubhouse gives me a chance to talk to other alumni. On this occasion, I walked in to discover Baron Von Raschke and his wife, Bonnie, sitting in the clubhouse alone. Baron von Raschke is a famous professional wrestler. His heyday was throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, wrestling for the AMA – the American Wrestling Association. His famous move was “the claw”, in which he formed his hand into a claw and clamped it around an opponent’s head and squeezed them into submission.

“The Baron”spoke with a raspy voice, sometimes in guttural German. He was an incredible villain. He enraged people playing up post WWII sentiment against Nazis. He’d wear a red robe and say things like “I am ordered to win.”


He was an incredible character. I loved him as a kid. Maybe I loved to hate him. Either way, I found him fascinating.

Baron von Raschke in real life is Jim Raschke.

I sat and talked to Jim Raschke and Bonnie long enough for him to tell his life story.
Mr. Raschke won the Nebraska state heavyweight wrestling championship in 1958. He headed off to the University of Nebraska, where he won the Big Eight Conference heavyweight championship. Raschke played football for two years, won a bronze medal at the 1963 World Games and made the Olympic team in 1964. He was injured just before he was to head to Tokyo. It was one of the worst days of his life.
Raschke did a stint in the US Army, being drafted on the day JFK was shot. When he finished basic, his commanding officer told him he could go to New York or to Washington. He knew nothing about New York. He wasn’t aware of how big it was – he thought it was a town like Omaha where he had grown up. Raschke wrestled his way through the Army, and after his service, headed back to his native Omaha, where he taught school.

He was only making $5,000 a year as a teacher, which wasn’t enough. Per chance or fate, and an Army contact, he ended up in Minneapolis helping with production of professional wrestling bouts. He’d help set up the lights and the ring, then spend his time in a production booth instead of wrestling. The wrestlers would walk by the booth, paying him no attention until one day, a wrestler named Mad Dog Vachon (real name: Joseph Maurice Régis Vachon) walked by, poked his head into the room and said, “You’d be a very good German.” Vachon did this a few times and when it was time for him to leave, he asked Raschke to come with him to his native Quebec and be his tag team pattern. Vachon was loved in Quebec. He was a hero.


Raschke explained he was always an introvert. He knew it had hurt his chances at fame. He was quiet and didn’t handle interviews well. Now here he was in Quebec. He didn’t speak French. He said Vachon had just completed an interview, and next they wanted to interview him. Raschke had taken German in high school, and still knew a few words. He used the German word for “destroy” a lot because it was one he remembered. He did the entire interview in guttural German. When we talked, he made it sound like a spur-of-the-moment idea. I’m sure it wasn’t that way. I’m sure it was planned. They’d call him “The Baron”. He’d speak German and be a menace.

Planned or not, there was that moment where he did his first live interview after a wrestling match. In that moment, the “Baron” was born. Baron von Raschke never had a problem portraying himself in the media. Raschke said that until he became someone else he was always nervous and terrified to talk to the media because he always said something wrong. It had hurt his career. The moment his new character was born he didn’t have to be himself anymore.

It was a beautiful story of transformation, a transformation that took “Little Jimmy Raschky from Nebrasky” and turned him into the legendary Baron Von Raschke, THE CLAW, a man who enraged people wherever he went.

The transformation appeared even more incredible after talking to him and Bonnie, because they were two of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. The two talked about how they met and married in only a few months because they knew they were perfect for each other. They’d traveled the world together and made a family. They were a perfectly matched pair.

I tried as hard as I could to get him to admit the wrestling was fake, that THE CLAW hold was fake. He’d talk about a wrestler, and I’d ask if he ever beat the guy.

“How did you beat him?”

He’d look at me as if I were stupid, and say, “We wrestled.”

I tried several variations of the same question. The answer was always the same.

“We wrestled.”

It was clear his memory was causing issues as Bonnie corrected him occasionally, but he never strayed from giving me that look and that answer.

It was beautiful.

It kept my childhood memory of him intact. Those were the days of Mad Dog, The Baron, Reggie “The Crusher” Lisowski, Mean Gene, Ed Farhat – “The Sheik”, Andre the Giant, and the early days of Hulk Hogan. They would travel around the country, playing hero or heel, depending whether they were in their home territory. It was grand entertainment.

Jim Raschke and I had three beers together. He was going to have another beer, but Bonnie frowned at him. He gave it to me, so I got a beer from Baron von Raschke.

I am captivated by the transformation of “Jimmy” to “Baron”, two so different people. I had a goal of returning to public speaking about my heart attack and traumatic brain injury when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Six years later, I remain challenged to tell my story without crying. I hate it. I can tell it if I do it as a standup act, or if I switch my voice to a Southern twang, ala “Dan Whitney as Larry the Cable Guy”. All of those seem too weird, too off-base for anyone to take seriously.’

The hurdle remains.

An autographed photo to me. He misspelled my name. His wife Bonnie called him on it, so he re-wrote it. I thought it was hilarious.

Make A Good First Impression? No. Make a Memorable Impression Instead

“Always make a good first impression.”

No doubt you’ve heard this cliche’. We’re told it’s required if you want to be a success. It’s spouted by successful people who are always happy to tell you how successful they are while looking like a used-car salesman.

The cliche’ includes such advice as:

  • Smile
  • Make Eye Contact
  • Have a firm handshake (we’ll see if the Covid-19 pandemic changes this – I hope so, I hate shaking hands)
  • Speak Clearly
  • Be Yourself
  • Be Positive (or enthusiastic – maybe both, but not too much or you’ll seem like a cocaine addict)
  • Speak With Authority

We’re told people judge us immediately upon meeting us. If we do a good job, they’ll like us more, find us trustworthy, then shower us with money and affection.

Do it wrong and… you are regulated to averageville. You’ll never get promoted, drive a nice car, or have a yacht. Your life will never reach its full potential. You will remain a loser.

So much pressure.

It’s no wonder a significant number of humans suffer from SAD – Social Anxiety Disorder. The world is full of people trying to make good impressions, and you’re out there constantly blowing it. It’s okay. There are many, many life coaches available who will steer you in the right direction. Or for only a few American dollars, you can buy a copy of Dale Carnegie’s book, “How to win friends and influence people”. If that doesn’t work, there is Nicholas Boothman’s “How to make people like you in 90 seconds or less”. Both books can provide you with quotes to live by. Perhaps you can say them when you meet people, turning your average life around in no time!

Sometimes I meet people and think, “Is this the best I’m going to get from this person?” They have obviously read the same advice about making a good first impression, yet they did not smile brightly, make eye contact, and their handshake is like a limp noodle. Clearly they are losers in life. Then I realize I do the same thing. I weep silently inside, wondering if somewhere there’s a place I’m never invited that’s full of bright, positive people with great smiles enjoying their success in life while I’m forced to go home to my beautiful wife, decent home, while driving my only average car. I’ll never be president.

Or you could say to hell with it altogether and take a different approach.

I have decided it’s better to make a memorable first impression.

I have several techniques, one of which I’m going to share with you for free because that’s the kind of benevolent human being I am.

I have had many opportunities as a credentialed sports photographer to introduce myself to other photographers. On those occasions, I have introduced myself as “Jon The Bastard”.

People normally respond by giving me an odd look. They pause, probably contemplating whether to converse with me further or run away. I use this moment to explain myself further. The explanation goes something like this:

“I am known as Jon The Bastard because when I was younger, I was emperor, and conquered the known world by the age of 21. Then I gave it all up to raise a family. Gave up my empire, my conquering ways. Constant plundering and looting. It was fun for a while, but it gets boring after a while. I was responsible for the slaughter of millions. It’s required if you want people to fear you because of your name. But what I really wanted was to be loved, so I quit, got married and now have a gorgeous wife and three beautiful kids.”

If they didn’t run away by then end of that bit, I’d use a follow up question to make sure they are still paying attention.

“Don’t you remember me?”

“No.”

“I didn’t slaughter enough people. I should have slaughtered more. Millions more.”

This may only work if you’re as suave and debonair as I. It’s a fine line between impressing people with your memorable first impression and having people call the police. It takes some work. You should test it on people you don’t care about impressing first. You could use it when checking your groceries out at Super Target. If you can impress a minimum-wage retail worker, you can impress anyone.

You’re probably wondering, “Does that technique really work?”

Of course it does. There are many times I run into a photographer I know at an event who greets me with, “How you doing, ya bastard?”

Other times people move quickly in the other direction, no doubt out from fear because my prowess as a conquering, slaughtering, plundering emperor. Either way, they remember who I am.

Mission accomplished.

What technique would you use to make a memorable first impression?

The Theory Of Household Energy Dispersal

Remember when you were young and single and had all the energy to do whatever you want – otherwise known as the “Good Ol’ Days”? Young people might remember when you lived alone, or in your dorm at university and you so much energy before you graduated, had to get a job, and start adulting? Now you have a regular job. Maybe you have kids. Maybe you live with your parents.

Now you’re tired all the time. Laggard wherever you go. You want to work out to stay in shape, but you decide to binge on Netflix instead.

There’s a perfectly good scientific explanation for this. It doesn’t involve your diet, how much cardio you do, or how much sleep you’re getting. Unfortunately, your “condition” may be very much beyond your control.

I call it my theory of “Household Energy Dispersal”. It’s very simple to understand.

Every household has a quota of energy that is divided equally among the people who live in the house.

When it’s just you living alone, you get 100% of the quota. When you get married, or start living with someone, whether in a relationship or as a roomie, your household energy drops by 50%. Most of the time people in a new relationship don’t even notice because they’re excited someone has chosen to love them.

You have a child. Suddenly, you’re down to a third of available energy. Have another, and you’re down to a fourth. God forbid you have twins or triplets, as the energy drop happens so fast it takes years to get accustomed to losing all that vigor at one time.

Reviews! If you read my book, “Been Dead, Never Been To Europe“, please leave a review at Amazon. Reviews are like gold for authors. They offer social proof that others like an object (or the opposite), and everyone knows that crowds attract a crowd.

Please?

Young people who move back in with their parents experience the same problem. They were carefree, then suddenly, they are devoid of energy, and life seems so very difficult.

Note that this theory is universal. It is true across all households, all walks of life, all countries, everywhere on planet earth. If you’re wondering how that perky couple at soccer has so much more energy than you, please don’t. They’re probably better at faking it for a few hours. Or they’re on meth. Either way, they collapse when they get home just the same way you do.

If you happen to be the youngest of a large family and have spent your life contemplating why your parents didn’t pay any attention to you, wonder no further. It’s because they didn’t have enough energy left to care. Think back to how they used to yell the names of your siblings in order before they got to you. They were too tired to remember their children’s names and were just reading off a card they kept in their wallet. It wasn’t personal. It’s just part of family life. You can thank me for saving you from more sessions at therapy by sharing this newsletter with your friends.

The obvious solution is to live alone. Never get married, never have children. Don’t have any pets either. I’m not 100% sure if it applies to pets as I am still doing research, but if you’re serious why take chances? You won’t get invited to holiday parties, but you’ll have all the energy you need. Now if you could only find something worthwhile to spend it on.

Is this humor? Yes, this is, at the least, an attempt at humor. However, I challenge you to tell me where I’m wrong.

What Else Is Happening?

My oldest son Noah has become an expert on crytpo and NFTs. I think it’s exciting. I don’t understand it, but everyone thought Woz and Steve Jobs were rather nuts when Apple first appeared on the scene. At one point in the 1980s IBM estimated the maximum number of PCs people would ever purchase at 5,000. They were off just slightly. Where are crypto and NFTs going? Who knows.

Other Newsletters/Books. I intend to do a newsletter on a bi-weekly basis. I will start adding references to other newsletters I think you might like and books as well. So if you have a book/newsletter you want me to include, let me know!