Mark’s soccer medal, Ottawa, June 2018

“Mommy! Look what I’ve got! METAL!”


“No, medal!” Mark shouts, barging into my room. “Everybody got one. I won a medal! Did I do well?” he asks eagerly.

I’m stumped.

Oh, fuck me. It’s almost 8 p.m., I have a deadline to meet and now I have to take a multiple-choice question parenting test.

Question: Your 5.5-year-old son gets his first soccer participation trophy. As a mother:

  • you shout “AWE-SOME! I’m so proud of you! You’re the BEST!” and go bake a gluten-free, nut-free, sugar-free, cruelty-free cake to celebrate.
  • you take a closer look at the medal and wonder if it’s worth the registration fees.
  • you call the FIFA because clearly, a soccer legend is born.

I’m torn between what I should say and what I want to say.

Mark didn’t win anything, he just showed up at soccer practice for six weeks. And I’m fairly confident none of the kids “won” anything. I mean, have you ever seen five- and six-year-old Canadian kids playing soccer?

I have. On week 2, Feng—who signed up Mark and thus, was the designated responsible adult—had to work, so I took Mark to the park across the street. This is where he crawled in the grass, mastered the slide and ate an entire sandbox between 6 months and 2 years old.

I wasn’t exactly happy to go to practice. It was raining, the field was muddy and also, and I hate soccer. “Oh well, at least I’ll get to socialize with other parents,” I sighed.

The one-hour practice was at the neighbourhood park and since all residential neighbourhoods have a park—Canada has plenty of land available—I had assumed soccer was an informal neighbourly recreational affair. Little did I know that apparently, “our” park is “the” place for soccer practice and that parents were coming from all over Ottawa.

It didn’t take me long to see that the game wasn’t intense but the parents were.

Holy shit, the parents.

Well, let me just tell you that parents who bring lawn chairs and a cooler full of snacks for a one-hour practice are not into small talk. Every five minutes, the mother beside me was calling her son for a “hydration break,” handing him a bottle as if the poor kid was hiking through the desert. Another one was cheering non-stop but I wasn’t sure what she was cheering for because the kid I identified as her son was mostly scratching his butt—I think she just liked to cheer since she also praised her baby for a loud burp.

Meanwhile, on the field, none of the kids seemed to have la mano de Dios, although a few were good at faking injuries. The two teams ran around for an hour, periodically shaking hands for no reason—the polite Canadian touch to soccer? I’m pretty sure the only time the kids got the ball is when they were holding their own ball.

If anyone should get a medal, it’s the parents. Seriously, it’s boring to stand around a soccer field—I vowed that evening I will never be a soccer mom.

“Okay, hang the medal and go take a bath, you’re dirty!” I end up saying because really, how do you acknowledge a participation trophy?

Poor Mark. Chinese parents criticize much more than they praise and French parents tend to believe in tangible results—good grades, an achievement, a milestone reached.

I take another look at the medal while Mark is in the bathroom. It’s gotta be the most Canadian thing I’ve seen since the kids playing hockey in the middle of an ice storm a few weeks ago. Why on earth is the local soccer league sponsored by Tim Hortons? And come to think of it, what Canadian event or activity is NOT sponsored by Tim Hortons?

I put the medal back.

Except for props during the London Olympics (if I look weird, it’s because I was seven-month pregnant…) it’s the first trophy I’ve ever held.

I’ve never won anything in my entire life. Some people are competitive by nature—Feng is, and so is Mark apparently—but I’m the opposite of that. I go out of my way not to compete with other people because I’m convinced I can’t win.

But maybe developing some competitive spirit is a good thing after. Instead of competing against others, I compete against myself and trust me, it’s not great for mental health. I’m the one setting goals, measuring progress and defining success. No matter what I do, it’s never good enough. I’m never satisfied and occasionally, I find myself craving praise—which I will immediately dismiss, of course, remember, I’m not good enough.

Maybe those participation trophies are a good way to build confidence and self-esteem. Maybe Mark will turn out to be a decent soccer player, maybe not—but either way, the session ended on a positive note for him.

And maybe a healthy dose of praise of the key to this baffling confidence and can-do attitude so many North American display.

I’m just too European to understand this concept.

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  1. I Say Oui June 28, 2018 at 12:26 pm

    Well, a participation medal (haha, at first I typed trophy– I subconsciously upgraded it) could be good if the kid understands that’s it for participating, not for winning. I guess the problem is if a kid expects a trophy everytime he/she participates in any activity. Showing up, literally and figuratively, is a good habit to foster from a young age– the question is whether a participation medal effectively encourages that or not.

    1. Zhu June 29, 2018 at 12:58 am

      It was difficult for me to acknowledge the medal but yet somehow “explain” Mark he didn’t actually win because, well, I’m not going to lie–he didn’t win anything.

  2. Aylyon June 29, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    Ha ha ha
    Well, first reaction: is it really his FIRST medal?
    Like the kids here have already about 12, no kidding, everything they do, they end up with a medal! And it’s so annoying!!

    And, I really get that kids needs our support, but I remember being a kid and getting a medal for just showing up at a basket ball tournament. I felt so insulted. So I can not help but wonder if the kids even like it so much.

    1. Zhu June 30, 2018 at 1:30 am

      It was indeed the first one! It almost bugged me that at school, he wasn’t rewarded for anything. He finally got a “teacher’s helper” card (literally, a piece of paper with his name and “thank you”) after TWO years. That, I wished he had had more often, he is a good kid at school, just quiet and shy apparently.

  3. Martin Penwald June 29, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    “Space Alert” is a nice board game for 3 to 5 players whose goal is to save a spaceship from various threats. But it’s a cooperative game, either everybody win or everybody lose. It’s pretty fun to play especially if you aren’t competitive.

    1. Zhu June 30, 2018 at 1:31 am

      I’m taking note! Never heard of it… but I haven’t played board game in ages. Funny enough, we didn’t have the classic Monopoly in my anarchist family 😉

      1. Martin Penwald June 30, 2018 at 10:00 pm

        The problem of board games is that there aren’t a lot that are fun for two.
        However, I really like “7 Wonders Duel” which is a modified version of the original game “7 Wonders” (for 3 to 7 players) which I don’t like too much, the gameplay is too slow and limited. But the Duel version is quick to play.

        When I’m in France for New Year’s eve, I like spend the night with my brother and some of his friends playing different games.

        1. Zhu July 3, 2018 at 1:01 am

          Board games are awesome if you have enough players. I used to play in hostels…

  4. Lexie July 4, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    En tant que «Ninja», les filles passent une nouvelle ceinture de karate tous les quatre matins. Je trouve que c’est un peu rapide mais je me dis que ça les motive. J’essaie de souligner au maximum l’effort plutôt que la réussite (parce que j’ai lu que c’était bien lol) donc qq part, une recompense pour souligner un effort de participation, ça me plait plus que recompenser l,enfant qui a scoré le plus ou qui fait le meilleur mouvement.

    1. Zhu July 6, 2018 at 2:02 am

      J’avais trouvé qu’ils étaient assez “fair” aux cours de natation, l’évaluation est juste et un bon mélange de “super, ça tu maîtrises!” et “… tu dois travailler etc.” Peut-être à cause du côté vital du truc? “Oui chéri, tu nages bien… ah ben non, en fait” 😆

  5. Cecile July 13, 2018 at 1:24 am

    Je trouve pénible moi aussi cette attitude typiquement nord américaine de récompenser et encourager pour un oui pour un non … Les derniers temps de ma courte expatriation aux US, je n’en pouvais plus des remarques des profs de sport ou de musique de mes enfants : “he did a gooooooood job” … Intérieurement mon côté cartésien français se rebellait !

    1. Zhu July 13, 2018 at 2:34 am

      On n’a pas trop eu ça pour le moment, mais les activités de Mark sont limitées. En fait, je trouve même qu’à l’école, c’est le contraire, on ne sait RIEN et il est rarement “récompensé” (une carte ‘teacher’s helper” en deux ans!). À la natation, le maître nageur était objectif et j’ai aimé ça. Mais c’est clair que quand tout est “awesome”, ben rien ne l’est plus!

      Du coup, est-ce que les enfants ont bien vécu l’arrêt des euphémismes américains? Ils en disaient quoi, eux, de ces remarques?

      1. Cecile July 14, 2018 at 5:43 am

        Comme on est resté seulement une année, et comme les enfants étaient assez grands (10 et 12 ans) ils n’ont pas eu de mal à se réhabituer au système d’éducation français.
        Le côté “great job, awesome”
        ça les faisait plutôt rigoler en fait …

        1. Zhu July 16, 2018 at 2:34 am

          Ça a dû être marrant comme expérience pour eux! Effectivement, ils devaient être assez grands pour avoir un peu de recul.


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