The Fun of Giving Awards

The Fun of Giving Awards

I volunteer at Camp Med, a licensed day care program sponsored by the City of South Pasadena, facilitating their sports hour. During the summer about eighty children from the ages of 5-11 participate.

In terms of my background, I have had the privilege to work on the Olympics every two years and other sporting events and have been the recipient of souvenirs and sponsorship memorabilia.

Two years ago, at the end of summer camp, I felt compelled to give out an award. In front of the other campers I read a speech and gave an Athens Olympics watch to our:

Honor Camper

Your thoughtfulness and caring are much appreciated. The kind words you have

spoken to your fellow campers and to the counselors have not gone unnoticed. Your effort and good sportsmanship have been Olympian. To honor you, Camp Med would like to give you a special watch that celebrates the Olympics and name you our Honor


This created a lot of excitement amongst the kids, so much so that the following summer, they kept asking me if I was going to give out another watch. I did, as well as eight other awards. I also gave out prizes at random times throughout the summer. This is what I learned during the process.


Growing up as a kid, half of the awards I received were of a generic nature. These awards had little meaning to me, even though some of them were big, marble trophies. The most thrilling award I received was a little blue ribbon in second grade that said “Most Improved.” I liked the award because it was authentic and true.

One of the more personal awards of the summer went to a boy whose math team won the regional, then state, then western states and then national competition and has a wonderfully neutral Mr. Spock-like persona:

The Pythagoras Award

Pythagoras was a great math genius of ancient Greece. He believed that numbers were the ultimate reality. Pythagoras was also known to be a keen observer, a good friend to many and very wise.

Camp Med has had the great fortune of having a Pythagorean in our midst and we honor you now.

He received a bust of Pythagoras.


I always give the child a copy of the speech as a reminder of what was said and as something they can show their parents. The speeches generally are short, the kids are eager to see what the award is (the award is always wrapped or covered) and find out who gets it. So, in a few words, strive to communicate an essence:

Goodness Award

I recognized your goodness from day one. It is always a delight to have you here with us at Camp Med.

The kids also like awards that sound cool. This one got their attention:

Ninja Soccer Girl

You are like a Ninja on the field, quiet, graceful, highly efficient and determined. It is a joy to see you on the field with a soccer ball.

I wanted to suggest to this modest boy that he is fully capable NOW of doing special things on the soccer field:

Soccer King

You have improved steadily throughout the summer, but what has truly impressed me is your heart. You are willing to play on much smaller teams against an army of kids.

There is an element of poetry about your game. You know when to pass, where to position yourself, when to accelerate, how to curve the ball and how to lead on the field.


During the summer, my wife and I cleaned out our garage. She discovered a pretty pin with little jewels on it. She no longer wanted it, but I saw an opportunity, one of our best soccer players at camp was also a very stylish dresser.

Camp Med Soccer Girl

There was a day in the middle of the summer when you had just about a perfect game. You were in a zone. Defensively, you took the ball away from everybody who came your way and then booted the ball up field or made an excellent pass. You did this for 45 minutes straight. It was so exciting to watch.

I had worked at the 1994 World Cup and had received a limited edition silk scarf celebrating the event. Where does one find a happy home for such an item?

Most Improved Girl Award

This summer, you not only started taking shots on the goal, you started scoring goals.

It has been a pleasure to get to know you better. You bring a radiance and elegant presence to Camp Med.

I remember this young lady very gracefully taking the big scarf out of its little box and later peacefully and meticulously folding it up again. In the caring way she handled the scarf, I could tell that she appreciated it.

As I placed my intention that summer on giving out awards, I discovered that there was an interesting dynamic at work. In the case of the soccer girl, I knew I wanted to give her an award and then the award showed up. In the case of the scarf, the award showed up and then the perfect recipient was revealed. This intuitive process went on throughout the summer. As each new revelation came forward, it felt like I was cracking a code. I never thought there would be nine awards, maybe three tops. Strangely, it seemed like I wasn’t in charge, I just listened, cooperated and went with the flow.


During one match, the rubber tip of a plastic hockey stick broke. At the end of the game, I announced that the MVP of the game would receive the rubber tip. This just cracked the kids up and they all wanted to receive it. There was the buzz of excitement in the air. The kids taught me that prizes could be silly as well.


Meanwhile at home, we also went through our Christmas ornaments that filled our garage. I thought, well, if the kids wanted the rubber tip of a hockey stick, they would probably like some Christmas items and announced that for one week (while it was 90 plus degrees in Southern California) that it would be Christmas in July and I would be awarding Christmas items throughout the week. Each day, I would bring a brown bag with a Christmas item inside and the kids couldn’t wait for the award ceremony to see what was inside.

During the week, a young boy came up to me and said that he wanted a prize. I asked him what he wanted and he said without hesitation, “I want a Santa.” All the kids wanted a prize, but with this boy, there was an extra need for acknowledgment.

The following day, I came with my brown bag. He quickly came up to me and asked if that was his Santa, he was so eager and excited. At the end of sports hour, I gave the brown bag to him and told him he was receiving this prize for being very sweet inside. He opened it up and took out the Santa. The kids cheered and clapped for him. He just stood there in awe with his Santa, vulnerable, wide-eyed, taking in all the support. Later he told me dearly that he felt, “a little embarrassed.” It was one of the most beautiful moments of the summer.

It’s an example of how by taking a positive action step (providing Christmas in July), an opening sometimes magically occurs for something even greater to come forward.


Not everyone has an overflowing garage. There is a wonderful, free organization called freecycle which is dedicated to reducing landfill waste. Members essentially play give and take, asking for what they want and posting what they have to give away. You can send an e-mail to the group asking for what you want, for example: old trophies and jewelry, children’s toys in good condition, etc. You’ll probably receive some very interesting items, all at no cost.


A watch turns out to be a perfect award. They can be trendy, colorful and fun. It’s practical. You can take it to school. It’s with you all day. It feels special. Kids love them. This was the speech for this year’s watch recipient:

The MVS Award for Most Valuable Support

After just a few days of Summer Camp, I knew, by your supportive actions, that you were destined for an award. It turned out that what I found for you, however, was totally sold out in Southern California and Oregon and Minnesota. I finally found a store in Chicago, Illinois that had one last one.

You have helped me so, so much. I appreciate you greatly, words can’t even say.

This award goes to the one who has been my right hand and has been wonderful and supportive throughout Summer Camp.

This November, Sixty Minutes did a piece on Millennial Kids whose childhoods they said are “filled with trophies and adulation”. The paradigm represented here is totally the opposite: heartfelt recognition and thanks to children who, by their very presence, give so much more than they receive.


As a child, I use to wonder, “Am I of worth?” “Who am I?” “What am I good at?” In a powerful way, certain awards gave me some answers. The answers were very clear (I am good at swimming, for example), but on a deeper level, the items were constant reminders that I was good. An award can go a long way in supporting the self-esteem of a child.

As an adult, I found the process of being the award giver a powerful, multi-dimensional way to connect to a young person. It can be done via humor, drama or warmth. It’s a very true and direct way of saying, “I value you.”

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