A different take on giving out age group awards
Ulf Kirchdorfer would like to get some discussion going about awards and medals with this post. . .
It is time to do away with age category medals at road races. Whether it’s a local 5K or a marathon of 25,000 runners, America is drowning in baubles of varying unoriginality with ribbons that are running out of colors to separate one event from another.
It is bad enough that we accumulate enough t-shirts or sweat-wicking singlets so that many runners would not have to do laundry for a month if dressing casually. Another stupid Santa or running shoe in miniature showing poor craftsmanship does not need to saddle our junked up planet or threaten to injure someone’s dog as the medal falls off a hook or rack people use to display their insignificant little victories.
Lest I be accused of being Scrooge, let me remind you that I am certain part of our economic trade deficit could be helped by discontinuing offering all this merchandise made in China to runners who sign up for a road race. Whatever happened to running a good race and celebrating the victor, and maybe second and third place for good measure? Do we really need to hand out bought self-esteem pieces? Are runners’ motivational powers so weak that extrinsic junk must be part of the package?
A friend tells me that I am being a purist by making this proposal, but he hopes that these medals will help his nine-year-old son develop the habit of running. A nine-year-old can only develop a lifelong habit of running by being handed a token? Is this not like the current educational practice of announcing everyone a winner in the schools, even if all students really are losers. And are all students not losers if awards are so freely given, the same applying to runners?
Do middle-aged people really need to look forward to turning 50 so that they can migrate to the 50-54 age category to have an edge for a year or two, having “suffered” as 49-year-olds in the 44-49 age category?
If we follow this logic of medal giveaways, I can see a time soon when extra ribbons will be attached to the spoils of unexceptional victory because the wind blew an extra mile faster than zero wind speed. Or if it rains, let’s add another ribbon. Someone takes a wrong turn because he or she is not paying attention, one more ribbon.
No, let us have a committee of road racing determine an elaborate classification system that uses color codes to delineate wind speed, humidity, temperature, road surface, spectator noise or absence, travel time to the event, hours spent at work-work before the race. After all, we must reward all the obstacles homo sapiens spoilus has to overcome to match the meter of “special” so many runners think they deserve.
Is this obsession with medals for everyone in every age category and wishes to be rewarded the slightest for going only an extra inch symptomatic of the kind of society in which we live? Would a hundred years ago the demands been less by road runners?
While we have the advantage of hindsight and can answer this question, it is worrisome what kind of mediocrity or sense of athletic prowess a medals-for-all mindset and practice contributes to the world of running.
Along similar mile markers, why is it that everyone who finishes a marathon gets a medal? Would business suffer so if people paid a lesser or even same entry fee and lined up and were timed “only”? If even more of the entry fees were donated to charities?
How selfish and mediocre do we really want to be as runners and would not changing the awards system structure be a good first step in changing the sport, even the recreational part of the sport, into something better?
Or is everyone and no one toeing the line on this one?
Part of the beauty of Capitalism is that people can create races to appeal to whomever they want. So, direct some races, Mr. Kirchdorfer, and see if it takes off. Trademark/Copyright it all you want. Go for it. Just quit whining.
If people have too much stuff, they can donate it to a local Y, school, animal or spousal abuse shelter for reuse.
I have, either directly or through my running club, organized or been a serious coordinator for many races over the last decade. People almost never ask what the post race food will be, but frequently ask what the awards are. Nowadays I manage races, and have helped manage many more races than I ever ran, and I have not raced for a number of years, but my running awards still decorate my living room.
If you are board of the trinkets for wining your age-group, try putting on a few races. I find it is the people who mostly run, and rarely volunteer to seriously manage the races that do the most griping.
Our club puts on about 12 races a year and in addition helps some other organizations put on theirs. We joke we have a race management club, not a running club.
We try to do unusual awards, sometimes frogs, sometimes picture frames with the race logo inside, some are glass roses, some are clocks, it just depends on the theam of the race and the whim of the awards queen.
We never give the classic pedestal awards and only give gongs to the kids in the kids run. Get involved with your club and change the awards to things you would like.
In addition we do put on a couple of "fun runs", races with clocks, but without timing and results. Maybe you should come to them. They are pure running events. One fun run we hold at the end of each hear has an unusual award system: All the unclaimed awards for the year are laid out on a set of tables, (frogs,clocks,ghosts,roses,trains, you name it). First person through the line gets first pick by walking to the back of the finish chute and picking out what ever thy like, same for everyone else. Walkers who come in last get slim pickings, but then again we are a running club.
"A nine-year-old can only develop a lifelong habit of running by being handed a token?"
Think back to your own youth, did the token awards you were given for different sports make you a lifelong participant in that sport? I ran in your typical grade school track meets where everybody got a ribbon. I stopped running as soon as I could in junior high and didn't start up again until I had to in order to play other sports. As an adult I've been an avid runner which is 0% attributable to the ribbons I got in 4th grade. I also got multiple bowling trophies for the leagues I was in from 2nd grade to 10th grade. Despite that I didn't bowl more than once every few years after 10th grade until starting up again 30 years later.
To me, the little tokens we hand out at races (or swim meets or karate school or little league or whatever) are more so the parent feels like their kid is getting something tangible out of the $10 or $50 or however much the fee was. Sure, the kid might put that ribbon/medal on their wall but long-term does it have any real affect? Debateable. I don't have kids, but I see my nephews rooms and their ribbons/medals. We'll see if they're still active in these sports in 10-15-20 years.
The races I produce, we go 3 ways for medals/awards:
--On the spartan side of things is our Half Marathon Unplugged. Note the name, Unplugged. No awards, no medals, no certificates. It's an accurate course with timing, but no frills. I get a few calls/emails every year asking what our medal looks like, but this is one of our fastest sellout races every year so the lack of bling doesn't seem to have any real effect.
--In the middle is our New Years Day 5k. No medals, no age group awards in a traditional sense, but we do give prizes to the overall male and female winner as well as both masters winners. That's it for performance awards! We give another 90-100 random prizes to entrants. All prizes are goods and services donated by local businesses, could range from a $2 water bottle to a $400 pair of snowshoes. We have a Kids Run in conjunction with that race and the kids do get a ribbon for finishing (not my call on that one).
--On the upper end is our marathon which gives your traditional medals and goes 3 deep in 5-year age groups. The age group awards we moved to providing something useful about 7-8 years ago - for a few years it was gym bags, then we went to commemorative bottles of maple syrup, the last few years it has been wood cutting boards. We hate the "hang on your wall" awards!
Personally, I always liked the medals I got for marathon and longer triathlon finishes. Maybe it's the ego part of me but even 15+ years after my last marathon I like walking by them in a corner of one room and seeing the collection. For shorter races though, I don't see the point.
I happen to be not only a RD but also an old duff who happens to like running half marathons for the "Bling". Your idea of dropping shirts, awards, goody bags, etc would make the RD job a snap and maximize short term profit until someone dropped an event on top of yours and offered bling. Unless your course is so unique that the course itself is all the runners come for you will lose your market. I love Capitalism and will continue to offer bling and seek bling in the events I chose to participate in!
Originally Posted by elfscore
I think you meant to reply to the original poster.
We put on a popular 10 mile event that has a lot of history and pretty much no competition as it falls in the middle of Winter in Maine. We've opted to keep prices low (we just raised the price this year to $20, which is less than most of the 5k's in our area!) and if people want to purchase a shirt we provide the option for an additional charge. About half the people in the race want a shirt; we go with a high quality shirt, and just round up to the nearest dollar for what our cost for them is so we don't make any money off of them. (Volunteers get a shirt for free so we pay for those out of the race budget.)
For awards, the race always gives something useful. Before I became a race director, I got a backpack as an award one year and I still use that bag regularly most of a decade later. This year, we had to guard the awards table because the prize was a high quality running hat and people kept trying to get us to let them have one. Another race I really enjoy offered high quality jackets to finishers at the 50 mile distance and fleeces to marathon finishers; again, something useful. For a 100 miler I'm running in a few months, if I finish I'll have an option to purchase a belt buckle, and I probably will. But I like that the race was kept at a budget level and that I didn't have to pay up front for a finishers award I may not have wanted or earned.
At our 10 miler, we've been requested to have medals for finishers, and we discussed it in the race committee, but we just didn't really see a need for it. It would make a few people happy, but for most it would just be junk in their house or trash in their garbage, so the expense didn't seem worth it.
If our event were between Thanksgiving and Christmas, however, I probably would have a finisher medal, but it would be a Christmas Tree Ornament. Again, that gets into a semi-useful bauble instead of something that goes in a junk drawer.
Of course, different strokes for different folks. I see it as a plus when races give me the option to purchase a shirt or save a little money and go without. I see it as a plus when there's useful awards instead of trash. I dont' feel a need for a finisher's medal, even for marathons. I'd prefer to save a little money. For others, they like having those items and they seek out races that have them even if it costs a little more to participate.
while we are at it... do runners really need to pay money to go run a race? why not wake up in the morning and go run... time yourself... be happy.
But yeah, the soccer trophy mentality is something that is widespread in all amateur sports. Often times its giving the customer (the masses) what they want.
If you are bribing them you are probably doing it wrong. But don't ignore the positive reinforcement that prizes and awards have to teenagers. It is recognition from adults that you can at least do something right.
Originally Posted by joeconn4
I still have the few awards I won for sailing as a teen. They were valuable to me then, I worked long an hard for them. They are on top of a book case in my living room. A few were trophies, but most were club awards in the form of useful pottery beer mugs with the sailing club bungee on the front. Our club changed the color of the awards each year. If you were very good, and were a winner in a big weekend series, and one a 1st and a 2nd and a 3rd and a 4th in a series of races you could collect a set, Tepot, milk jug, pint mug, half pint and small bowl. A very hard sort of five-fector to hit. I once heard about a boat slowing down so as to take second instead of first, so as to collect the missing one. Yes, my teen age awards were hard won and still valued.
I still have other teen age awards, like my DOE awards. Other than exam results, and a brass desk bear, I have NOTHING else from that time of my life. I also wear some good qulity running hats from races 10 years ago, because the hats are good, better than most modern ones.
I won't debate that awards as positive reinforcement for teenagers and younger runners isn't a negative thing. If I read the OP correctly he was asking whether or not awards can be expected to lead to someone developing a lifelong running/racing habit, which to me is a different angle. Based on my experience they don't, your mileage may vary. You mention sailing as a teen and winning awards, are you still active in sailing either in races or recreationally?
Originally Posted by JamesM