Anyone ever remember getting a participation trophy at the end of a sports season? It typically only happens for kids, and even then it seems to be more prevalent for young kids, say middle school on down. The participation trophy is what you get when you don’t win, as a means to say “you’re okay, you tried, and that makes you a winner”. There have been heavy debates about this for a while now and for good reason.
Participation trophies have been in effect since the late 1970’s when they were introduced, supposedly in youth soccer leagues. They were implemented to make those young athletes that had tried and lost feel better about themselves. Let’s face it, no one likes to lose and having to walk off the field while hearing the cheers of the winning team is kind of a blow to your ego. But worse than that is the effect that can happen when you’re handed an award for simply showing up and doing your best. People have argued that this is a means to an end when it comes to bringing kids back to the sport the following season, but others have argued that it leads to a serious sense of entitlement.
The Pros and Cons.
So let’s break this down a bit. Getting a trophy is great at the end of your season. It makes you feel like you’re on top of the world, especially since all the hard work it took to get you there obviously paid off and you’ve accomplished something that the other teams or athletes did not. Having won a few awards from grade school on up I can fully attest that the feeling is absolutely great. Not winning is hard of course, but getting a trophy when you didn’t win seems a bit odd, not to mention awkward.
Here are a few pros and cons to see how it balances out.
Pro: It gives the recipient a boost of confidence.
Con: You essentially award them for showing up.
Winning is great as I’ve already said, but losing is an important part of the game as well. We might push our kids a little hard at times to win and to be competitive, but in the long run this gives them the drive and the skills they’ll need to apply later in life to get anywhere. Losing is rough, but it also teaches a kid how to deal with adversity and accept that they won’t always come out on top. As adults does anyone ever win all the time? Probably not, but when we don’t we get back up, dust ourselves off, and try again. Allowing a kid to understand this is important as it can foster resilience and a mental toughness that is needed for the outside world when they grow up.
Pro: It gives them a reason to keep playing.
Con: You’re rewarding them for minimum effort.
Granting a kid a participation trophy can give them a reason to come back the following season, but it can also make them think that so long as they’re playing a sport, or just showing up for practices and games, that they’ll get a reward for minimal effort. Some kids might just want to ride the bench all season and expect that reward, and that’s a dangerous habit to enforce. While some kids might be turned off to sports after losing a time or two, the parents of such kids need to remind them that the possibility of losing will always be there, but the work and effort that are put into the sport will make the difference between winning and losing. Talent alone doesn’t win any sports game, as it’s the athlete that works the hardest and can develop their talent that will have the most definite edge. The athlete that sits on the bench and gets rewarded for it is the one that might come to expect to be thanked just for showing up, in sports and in life.
It might seem brutal, but it’s as close to the stark reality as it can be.
Human beings are competitive in just about anything. Handing out an award, be it a trophy or anything else, for minimal effort is a very dangerous habit. The lessons we teach our kids about winning and losing do tend to translate into life lessons that are invaluable later on as they grow into adults. While a participation trophy isn’t the worst thing that could be handed to a kid, it’s certainly one of them. Kids need to learn what it’s like to actually earn praise, not just expect it for showing up.