Sports Traditions You Can Use
You don’t have to work with millennials to know that everyone loves to receive an award.
The best recognitions aren’t messy sports customs like Gatorade baths or pies in the face after a walk-off home run. Handing someone who just closed a big sale a bottle of milk to chug like the first Indianapolis 500 finisher might be misconstrued as hazing. And a trip to Disney World like the Super Bowl winners or the White House like the college football national champs might not be in your budget.
But there are lots of ways to borrow sports award practices and make them your own, in an effort to add a little more fanfare to your non-sports world. Which ones could you utilize in your office, classroom or home to recognize outstanding work and make everyday people feel like extraordinary winners?
Forget the employee-of-the-month wall of fames. Here are the best sports award traditions you could restyle to recognize others.
Get Your Team Together and Cut Down a Net
The NCAA basketball tournament started in 1939, and the practice of cutting down the nets began eight years later when Everett Case, the coach of the North Carolina State Wolfpack at the time, stood on the shoulders of his players and cut down the nets.
Coach Case started the tradition as Frankfort High School’s basketball coach in the 1920s, where he won four state championships at the small Indiana high school. He wanted his players to cherish the memory of their victory and take a little something with them to help commemorate it.
How you can use it: Spend a few dollars on a mini-basketball hoop, and get your team together to publicly cut down the net. Maybe you’re celebrating a super-successful product release, the close of a big deal, or a significant anniversary. If you have a ladder, put the mini-hoop high enough on the wall so that everyone gets to climb it for even better social media photos.
Design Your Own 'Play Like a Champion Today' Sign
Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, with the help of NBC, popularized the "Play Like a Champion Today" phrase in the mid-1980s.
But it has even earlier roots with coach Bud Wilkinson at the University of Oklahoma, where Sooner players and coaches touch a "Play Like a Champion Today" sign above their locker room doors as they head out to the field before every home game.
How you can use it: Design your own sign for everyone to touch as they enter or exit your office, classroom or home. Want employees to learn like champions today? Want students to focus like champions today? Get a sign printed, and hang it up for all to high-five as inspiration.
Award a Jacket Like the Masters
The Masters green jacket is one of the most coveted prizes in professional golf. Not only does it signify your membership at the prestigious Augusta National Golf Club, but it also showcases your winning of the Masters golf tournament, an even more exclusive club.
The idea of the green jacket started in 1937 when Augusta National members wore them so that waiters knew who should get the check at dinner. Golfer Sam Snead was the first to receive one as recognition for winning the Masters tournament in 1949, which started the award tradition.
The previous year’s champion ceremoniously helps the new winner put theirs on as everyone cheers. While the official jacket never leaves Augusta, the winner is given a replica to keep with their name stitched on the label.
How you can use it: While there are lots of places to buy a replica Masters jacket online, it could become a great tradition for a mentor to award a mentee alongside a little ceremony. Get one made in your school colors, for instance, and award it to a younger teacher when they take over as department chair. And continue this custom anywhere prestige is needed without huge increases in pay. If you prefer jerseys to jackets, you could also award a yellow Tour de France shirt to signal leadership.
Give Out a WWE Championship Belt
When wrestling fans think about the biggest names in the history of pro wrestling — Andre the Giant, Bret Hart, The Rock, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, and John Cena — they usually picture them holding up this belt.
It was first awarded to Buddy Rogers in 1963 after he defeated everyone in a giant wrestling tournament.
How you can use it: If you need a less-formal award to give out to your favorite showman or showwoman, the WWE belt could be your best bet. You can buy custom ones almost anywhere, and it might work well as a fun "fake it until you make it" award to recognize your organization’s newest learner who simply figured it out as they went and ended up crushing it. Feel free to cue up John Cena’s theme song as they come up to accept the award, and even he’ll be able to see you with recognition like that.
Hoist a Trophy and Document What You Do With It
Hockey and soccer have some of the best trophy traditions. The best hockey captains gather everyone around their award to celebrate the team win, and the best soccer players put their trophy down for a few minutes to hold up their hands and clap for the fans who helped secure it.
There’s no shortage of stories about what’s been done with the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup, the oldest and most-traveled championship trophy in the professional sports world, dating back to the 1890s. Unlike other sports trophies, the winners keep it until a new one is crowned the following year. "Lord Stanley’s Cup" has been used as a drinking utensil, a baby holder, a dog bowl, a baptismal font and even a fire pit.
But the best thing about the tradition of traveling with the Cup is documenting where it’s been.
How you can use it: Give a big trophy to a team captain and have them hoist it up with their team for a great photo opportunity. Or use a smaller version of the trophy to encourage well-earned time off. Maybe it’s awarded to someone who earns an extra week of vacation after a significant anniversary or someone who already travels a lot for work. Either way, leverage it to help communicate that your organization encourages taking your work recognition with you and documenting your good time(s) off.
Get Championship Rings Made
Before the 1920s, World Series winners received commemorative pins or pocket watches. The 1922 New York Giants were the first to award championship rings to players after beating the New York Yankees. By the 1930s, rings became the annual World Series tradition.
Each of the pro sports leagues now get rings made for championship teams to keep, customized with team logos and dates. The winning team often presents the rings to other members of the organization as a way to say "Thank You" to trainers and general staff. Sometimes, rings are even given to fans through a raffle.
How you can use it: Wear a trophy on your finger. Getting rings designed and fitted is no easy task, so save this one for World Series-like events such as a company exit. Get everyone fitted for a ring to celebrate your organizational winning, as well as multiple seasons of hard work.
Add Stickers to Signify Achievements
Ohio State football can probably take credit for popularizing the use of helmet decals for motivational purposes, but the recognition’s history dates all the way back to World War II when fighter pilots added stickers to their planes to signify kills and successful missions.
Today, Ohio State’s players get these badges of honor added to their helmets for wins and position achievements. The Georgia Bulldogs also award different color bone stickers for academics. And Illinois uses each side of the helmet to denote on- and off-field achievements. Some stickers can even be removed for negative performances.
How you can use it: Come up with a fun system for denoting sticker certifications outside each employee’s cubicle so that everyone who enters immediately knows their special status. Mini-helmets would look cool on your teammate’s desk, too.
Ring a Cowbell Like Mississippi State
Sometimes, recognition just needs more cowbell.
The pre-World War II story goes that during a Mississippi State home football game, a cow wandered onto the field and led to a thrashing of state-rival Mississippi. Bulldogs fans haven’t left their cowbells at home since.
As the Mississippi State traditions website reads, "Despite decades of attempts by opponents and authorities to banish it from scenes of competition, diehard State fans still celebrate Bulldog victories loudly and proudly with the distinctive sound of ringing cowbells."
How you can use it: If your recognition methods just need to be a little louder, get yourself a cowbell and establish it is as a ringing announcement of awesome work. Did your kids remember to brush their teeth before bed? Ring the cowbell. Did all your students turn in their assignments on time? Ring. That. Cowbell.
Pass Out Towels to Wave Like the Steelers
The "rally towel" is now a fan symbol in stadiums around the world. But the Steeler’s "Terrible Towel" started as a 1975 playoff "gimmick" from broadcaster Myron Cope to get fans more involved in games. For Pittsburgh fans today, it’s as iconic as the American flag, passed down through generations and treated with the utmost respect.
It’s no coincidence that the "12th Man Towel" tradition also started at Texas A&M University a decade later, officially symbolizing that these towel-wavers were there to support the 11 men competing on the field.
How you can use it: Take your industry conference participation to the next level by handing out towels for attendees to wave instead of the age-old clapping. Forget about fidget-spinners, hand out towels before your next class presentation.
Present Medals Like the Olympics
The first modern Olympic medals were awarded at the inaugural 1896 Games in Athens, Greece. But the customary gold, silver, bronze sequence didn’t start until the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, Mo.
Attendees of the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy, were the first to see medals ceremoniously placed around the necks of winners. Athletes from first to eighth place also receive an official Olympic diploma. And Olympic participation medals even are awarded to support staff, event officials and volunteers.
How you can use it: Lots of non-sports events like National History Day already use medals to award academic achievement, but medals can and should be used outside the stadium during Olympic years to recognize the best of the human spirit and elevate star qualities like joy, inspiration, effort and resilience anywhere and everywhere they’re found.
Put Them on a Wheaties Box
Even though "Washburn’s Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes" were created by accident, the brand started intentionally printing athletes on their cereal boxes alongside the slogan "The Breakfast of Champions" in 1934.
Baseball’s Lou Gehrig was the first pro to appear on a box and started advocating the idea of eating well in order to succeed. By the 1939 All-Star game, all but a few of major league baseball’s top players endorsed the product.
How you can use it: Programs like Photoshop make anything seem possible these days. Design your own box, and get it made for the biggest champion of your company, classroom or home. Use this mockup award to recognize any icon who not only embodies your brand, but also exemplifies how to sell it.
Turn It Into an Event Like the ESPYs
ESPY is short for Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly. It’s not only an award, but also a televised ceremony that started in 1993, recognizing the best individual and team achievements throughout the year. A few award examples are Best Breakthrough Athlete, Best Team, Best Moment and Best Coach.
The most inspiring part of the ESPYs are the star quality awards, named after exemplars from the wider world of sports like the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance, the Pat Tillman Award for Service, and the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. These awards remind us all that an athlete’s work often reaches far beyond the stadium.
How you can use it: Turn your honors into a ceremony by coming up with your own fun and inspiring awards. A few good examples could be the "In It to Win It" award for best effort or a "Rookie of the Year" award. And, of course, you also should recognize character traits like perseverance, service and courage. You could even email the best ESPYs speeches before your event to get everyone ready to "laugh, think, and cry."
Award a Keg of Beer or a Giant Lobster
A few more obscure sports recognitions also could be emulated.
If a golfer wins the Italian Open, for instance, he also wins his weight in cheese. The victor of the Wife Carrying World Championships in Finland aso secures his wife's weight in beer.
The best examples, though, receive a keg of beer after winning the first stage of the Tour of Belgium bike race and score a lobster after dominating the Sylvania 300 NASCAR race.
How you can use it: Reward inspiring feats of stamina, skill and perseverance with a keg of beer for everyone to share and celebrate or a gift certificate for a lovely lobster dinner date. Sometimes, there’s just nothing that says "well done" like refreshments following a long work race.
Create a Highlight Reel Like “One Shining Moment”
If you’re familiar with the first net-cutting tradition on this list, you’re no stranger to the the March Madness "One Shining Moment" tradition. It’s always hard not to get a little teary-eyed during this culminating video recap, probably because you decided to stay up super late for it and still have to work the next day.
"One Shining Moment" has been used to summarize the college basketball tournament for the past three decades. Luther Vandross now performs it, but the song was written by singer-songwriter David Barrett. In 1986, Barrett was so inspired while watching Larry Bird on television after a gig at the Varsity Inn in East Lansing that the lyrics just came to him as he jotted them down on a napkin.
How you can use it: Did a great teammate just get promoted onto another team? Send them off with your best "One Shining Moment" montage. Have a class of students you’re really going to miss next year that you also destroyed in this year’s bracket challenge? Leave them with your favorite "One Shining Moment" school memories. Is your favorite sister getting married to a guy who has season tickets to your favorite sports team? Work in the best slow-mo, day-of wedding photos before pressing play on their "One Shining Moment" reception video.
The possibilities are endless.