A Trophy and a Smile

Season-ending awards programs can be just as much about next year's goals as last year's accomplishments. The key is to show pride in the team, and make sure there are lots of smiles.

By Keith Manos

Keith Manos is a Wrestling Coach and former Athletic Director at Richmond Heights (Ohio) High School. His books include Wrestling Coach's Survival Guide and Coach's and Athletic Director's Complete Book of Forms and Letters, both published by Prentice Hall (800-947-7700).

Athletic Management, 14.3, April/May 2002, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1403/ovotrophy.htm

Whether it is a formal or casual affair, involves a full dinner or just dessert, includes a guest speaker or just a few comments from the head coach, a season-ending awards program is one of the most important parts of any athletic season. It must appeal to a variety of people, and every one of those people should leave with a sense of satisfaction about the season just passed and an interest in the one to come.

An end-of-season awards program should fulfill four objectives: honor achievements, recognize any titles or awards, thank contributors, and plant the seeds for the season to come. In the following, I'll provide detail on each area.

Honor Achievements
When planning how to honor athletes' achievements, I believe in spreading the wealth--giving out several individual awards instead of just an MVP award. In this way, people who contribute to the team in ways other than great athleticism are encouraged.

It's important for athletes and parents to be clear about the criteria and selection procedures your school uses. Do coaches decide who wins or do athletes vote for some awards? Does the "Most Improved" award cover just this season or improvement over four years?

The Most Outstanding Player Award should be given to the varsity athlete who has demonstrated the highest level of skill and ability throughout the season and been most involved in team success. This could be the golfer who has the most tournament titles or the midfielder who led the team in both statistical and leadership categories. For certain sports, like football and volleyball, the award can be split into two, one for offense and one for defense.

The criteria for the Most Improved Award can vary based on what the coach wants to emphasize. It's typically given to the athlete who shows the most development from the previous season to current season, or one who improves from the season's start to its end. Some coaches, however, like to honor the senior athlete who has improved most over his or her four years of play.

The Coaches' Award is often given to the athlete who displays the most service to the sport, works the hardest, maintains a positive attitude, demonstrates leadership, has high attendance, and dedicates him- or herself to improving. A Spirit/Hustle Award can be awarded to the athlete who displays the most intensity and commitment throughout the season, the most enthusiasm and spirit, and the most determination to excel. I also like to give out Scholar-Athlete Awards to one or more athletes who are also accomplished students, as indicated by GPA, academic honors, or teacher recommendations.

Along with these special awards, every participant should be recognized in some way. Varsity letters should go to those athletes who competed in the majority of varsity competitions, but if the coaching staff feels an athlete was an integral part of the team and did the best he or she could, a varsity letter should be awarded, especially to seniors. All other athletes should receive j.v. letters. (Be sure to explain the criteria for varsity letters to parents in attendance.)

Recognize Titles
The postseason awards program is also a great time to sit back and really cherish any titles or championships achieved. You might choose to distribute T-shirts or rings that signify a conference, sectional, regional, or state championship attained.

Special mention must also be given to individual honors recipients. All-conference, all-district, or all-state selections should be announced and the coach may wish to take a minute to go over these special athletes' achievements.

Even if there are no special honors to hand out, this is a great time to play a promotional videotape or to hand out pictures taken of the players during the season. Coaches can also talk about the satisfaction they've had in coaching this particular group of athletes.

Say Thanks
An awards program is also an appropriate time to show appreciation. People may volunteer once because they are personally involved, but they probably won't help again if their contributions are not acknowledged. Whether they donated funds, hosted a team party, or made scrapbooks for senior athletes, their efforts should be made public in front of this audience. Possible thank you mementos include a specially designed certificate and a copy of next year's schedule.

Also, coaches should take the time to thank those people they've worked with throughout the season. This may include:

Assistant coaches.
Administrators (principal, assistant principal, athletic director).
Athletic trainers and strength coaches.
Managers and statisticians.
Cheerleaders and their advisor.
Game workers.
Team photographers and/or videographers.
The media.

Ready for Next Year
While enthusiasm is high and feelings are good, use this time to explain expectations of the athletes in the off-season and for next year. You may want them to attend a summer camp, participate in a strength and conditioning program, or compete in other school sports. Speak about team goals and what it's going to take to achieve them.

Team unity is just as important at an awards program as it was during the regular season. Therefore, your final words should reflect fellowship and rapport among the coaches, athletes, parents, and school administrators. Everyone should exit content that, regardless of the won-loss record, the season was a successful and rewarding experience. And one that everyone can build on next year.