At a young age, sport is about participating and creating the desire in each kid to return for the next season. Having fun and learning to compete at a young age are of primary importance. Winning should not be the goal, but for those individuals and teams who do win their efforts should be supported.
Unfortunately, for kids the simple act having fun can be interfered with and even eliminated altogether by otherwise well meaning adults. For example, there are leagues that, instead of letting kids play and either win or lose create special rules which advance every team into the playoffs. The idea, presumably to create more opportunity for fun or perhaps to make the young participants feel better about themselves.
Ironically, this message not only over emphasizes winning, but it also supports the concept of unearned rewards. Adults who create such rules are really saying to the kids that post season play and therefore winning are so important that we are going to let all of you finish the season winners - earned or not. In addition to over emphasizing winning, giving young kids an unearned reward can only be counterproductive.
Unearned rewards of this nature value results over effort. Giving unearned rewards say to each kid that you can fall short of the base qualifying standards and skill levels and still get the prize. Perhaps this is one reason why the young adults of today are sometimes accused of being entitled and unwilling to work their way from the bottom up to the top positions in corporate America?
For the young kids, the goal is to make sport so enjoyable that they want to return for the next season - playoffs or not. This sets the ground work for a strong athletic future.
Offering unearned rewards and eliminating the values earned through struggle and effort over emphasize winning and do not teach the inherent values and life lessons that can be gleaned from sport. Further, the everyone is a winner approach to sport does not develop future champions. In life this approach does not develop strong workers and employees. Nor, I could argue does it develop balanced and ethical leaders.
The Champion's Way