I'm not necessarily from the camp that complains about the "everyone gets a trophy" mentality. That said, I believe there comes a time when children aren't being setup for success (both on and off the field) by receiving participation awards past a certain age. I also feel strongly that any form of recognition needs to be genuine and deserved to mean something.
Here are some of the forms of recognition our 11U girls select team has implemented in attempt to wean off participation awards and pivot to forms of recognition that more appropriately match their development (and are hopefully more meaningful).
The "U" / MVP (Offense)
After every practice and game, the team helps me select the best offensive player in a given session. Goals and assists are great, but the player recognized should have made a broader impact (effort, leading by example, etc.). The recognized player gets to keep the "U" (meant to represent our "United" name) until our next session. They leave a lasting mark by also being awarded a sticker, which they are expected to personalize at home. It's effectively like a helmet sticker in football - difficult to tie to any single statistic, but hopefully obvious to teammates and coaches. At the conclusion of every season, the team nominates (via a Google Form with NO parent input) an overall offensive MVP that will get to keep the "U" when it's retired (making way for a new fresh "U" the following season).
The "B" / MVP (Defense)
The above-mentioned process is copied for the most outstanding defensive player in every session. The "B" was chose to represent our team nickname of "Bruisers" - one we adopted during our 4v4 days when getting the girls to play more aggressive was the primary focus for our possession-based "finesse" team. The "B" therefor is much more appropriate for our standout scrappy defender than the "U". In addition to the sticker awarded every session, an overall winner is nominated by peers using a Google Form at the end of each season to keep the letter.
Winning and final scores are a far distant priority in relation to our long term focus on "total player and team development". That said, we track goals and assists to inspire a killer instinct in the final 3rd and unselfish play respectively. Our girls have played way more aggressively as a result and (much more importantly) they motivate and support each other to improve through friendly competition. The player with the most goals at the end of each season is given a Golden Boot (read: old soccer shoe that's been spray painted). The top 3 for each assists and goals are also recognized as nominees.
Goalie is a thankless position that requires fearlessness and a unique mindset that few possess. We recognize everyone that had the courage to try the position and call special attention to the keeper that allowed the fewest goals per game with the Golden Glove. Just like the Golden Boot, the glove inspires healthy competition and encourages our goalies to push one another to keep "clean sheets".
Most Improved (Overall)
In addition to the Offensive and Defensive MVPs, the Most Improved Player award is peer-nominated. We spray paint a weight to represent the player putting in the most work (both at practice and on their own at home) to get better over the course of the season. I just happened to see the weight sitting in the garage, but I've considered items like a small hammer or lunchbox (i.e. the VT football team's "bring your lunch pail" mantra) as well. There are probably way better analogies to represent hard work, so please share.
Division & Tournament Awards
Long term player development is ALWAYS the primary focus, not winning or scoring a ton of goals at all cost. Playing high quality, possession-based soccer remains as the main goal. However, tracking progress relative to performances against top competition (in Select regular season play and postseason tournaments) provides benchmarks that help track team success. For example, finishing a place higher than seasons past, moving up a division, or being more competitive in a tournament are accomplishments we celebrate as a team. Built-in mechanisms, such as the top 2 teams in a division getting invited to CAYSA/WDDOA competitions, also provide something to strive for as a team. It can't be repeated enough though that total player development shouldn't be sacrificed within younger teams chasing team goals.
For the 11U girls in particular, we set very specific team goals at the beginning of this season (NONE of which had to do with our record). The form of recognition we tied to accomplishing those goals was to attend the GSA Force Fall Tournament - an overall team experience that means worlds more than any trophy to these girls (see sleepover picture below, taken during out last tournament).
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