This is very true in the workplace where often times events allow one employee to succeed over another. This employee did nothing better than the others but the events were favorable to him and allowed his success.
You always want your teams to be like family… everyone celebrates together and no child should get special treatment. This is the key to joy in families and in the team task based activities. This was recognized and taught by the late W. Edwards Deming.
Deming was the father of Total Quality Management philosophies that allowed Japan to succeed and beat the pants off the US because they make quality products. He stated that for management to transform a company to a quality company, they must use a system of “profound knowledge” : appreciation for the company being a system, understanding variation, theory of knowledge and understanding psychology.
The variation and psychology parts have to do with recognizing that in general everyone tries his best and when things extraordinary happen either good or bad, it is usually due to variations inherent to the system itself which is created by management. So when management rewards or punishes one employee over another it can be demoralizing.
If an employee’s performance stands out, management should figure out why that employee did better and change the system so that all employees can do that and when they do, all are rewarded. If the employee did worse, also fix the system , not the employee since system variation is more likely the cause of failure.
So, Deming probably would not approve but I think Vex will continue to make these awards. I know I did not become a mentor to get awards and the awards will not inspire me to do any better since I was already rewarded by seeing students succeed. So why then? The only thing I can think of is teams like to celebrate stuff…birthdays, etc so any award given to anyone is good cause for celebration. As long as it is understood by all this way and everyone knows the reality of the system variation’s role in a winners selection then perhaps it is can be tolerated.