Some call it the Trophy Generation – the generation of young people today who never seem to fail, always succeed, and receive a trophy at the end of whatever activity they participate in.

I judged a marching band festival this past weekend, judging 25 high school bands on how well they played and how well they marched.  My area to judge of course was the percussion section, and on the percussion evaluation sheet, there were 5 ratings I was to use: High Superior, Superior, Excellent, Good, and Fair.

So what is “High Superior” you ask?  Good question!  As the author of a book on excellence, I was taken aback that somehow excellence was bumped to third position.  How can this be?  We all know that third on a scale like this means “average,” or if you are grading at home, a C.

Don’t we?

This rating system was an obvious attempt to soften any criticism the bands received.  No one fails.  Everyone goes home a winner.  Everyone gets a trophy.  For the record, no bands received a “good” or “fair”  all night long.  Why?  Well, a rating of 4 or 5 does not really mean good and fair.  They mean mediocre and poor, and we certainly don’t want these kids to feel bad.

In fairness, I was impressed with these bands.  Everyone was prepared.  Everyone had good leadership.  What bothered me was this trend of shielding our young people from experiencing any kind of adversity in their lives.  From losing.  From failing.  From falling short.  Our mission has simply been to prevent this from happening.  How?  By making sure everyone feels good about their performance and ensuring everyone brings home another trophy to put in their gigantic trophy case back home in the band room.

In life, excellence is earned, not given.  Kids need to learn this lesson early on.  Why mislead them?  Why coddle them into thinking otherwise?  Why rob them of developing character and perseverance?  Why continue to poor lighter fluid on the forest fire of entitlement?   Why can’t we just provide honest feedback so lessons can be learned, accountibility can be developed, and improvement can take place?  Whatever happened to GROWING from our experiences?

For more thoughts on the pros and cons of marching band competitions, check out my article, Teaching the Values of Competition at