Why We Shouldn’t Be Rewarding Our Youths for Quasi-Success (or: Partial Credit!: The T-Shirt.)

Out in the suburbs, past the Beltway and the high-rises, out where the Thai and the Vietnamese restaurants make way for Red Robin drive-thrus, you’ll see them on Saturday mornings like today: young children, five or six years old, playing a game that vaguely resembles soccer.

It wasn’t so long ago that I was one of them, toe poking my way through Maryland’s famed MSI recreational soccer league. (Famous MSI alumni: AC Milan’s Oguchi Onyewu and President Obama’s daughters.)

I still have a few of my MSI jerseys tucked away in a corner of my closet back in D.C., and I was reminded of one of those jerseys last night. It’s a red jersey with MSI’s regionally-famed soccer ball logo swooping across the front. And on the left side are three patches sewn haphazardly to the sleeve.

Back in my first year of MSI, the league held mini-clinics for its youngest players. So my team, hand-picked from the first grade class at Wood Acres Elementary School, ventured out to the fields of some middle school in a far off place, potentially several exits north on I-270. There, MSI had set up what seemed liked thousands of miniature soccer fields for kids my age. It is no surprise that the Good Humor man and the shaved ice vendor always seemed to know where these weekend clinics were being held.

These clinics were held throughout the spring and the fall, and MSI coaches would teach us soccer mites the ways of the game. There were four such clinics during the season, and at each, we learned a key skill. Some 45 minutes later, an MSI coach awarded us a patch to certify that we had mastered that respective skill.

I have three such patches on my red MSI jersey, one each for passing, dribbling and shooting. I do not know where I was for the fourth clinic; I think I was sick the day they taught proper technique for eating orange slices at halftime.

Regardless, that season began a childhood of meaningless reward for quasi-success. I played MSI soccer — at either the recreational or slightly-more-competitve-than-recreational level — for the next 11 years, and each year, I received a trophy, no matter how well or how poorly my team did that season. (At the end of several seasons, my teammates and I were awarded a second trophy for sportsmanship, probably because we were the only third graders who didn’t talk trash during the post-game handshake.)

But I don’t think my experience in MSI was abnormal. I believe that for more than a decade, across America, we’ve been rewarding our youth for minimal achievement.

Which brings me to the shirt you see below.

Last night, at the team store for the San Antonio Missions — the Class AA minor league affiliate for the San Diego Padres — I noticed this collectible hanging in the window.

Now, I’m all for celebrating the potential of mankind. I just don’t think a $16 ‘Mid-Season Champs!” shirt is the way to do it.


H/T to George Campbell for the image of kids playing soccer.