After a long weekend of umpiring peewee girls’ softball, I noticed something questionable at the end of the tournament. Regardless of placement, each girl on every team received a trophy. Even the girls on the team in last place squealed with excitement. This latest trend in youth sports creates a dangerous mentality among children: no matter what I do, I will get rewarded. This trending mentality can cause negative effects on kids in the long run. Not everyone is a winner in the real world. If kids receive participation trophies throughout their youth, kids will expect rewards to be given to them as adults for doing the bare minimum and become less productive citizens.
The conflict of whether or not should children receive participation trophies has become more popular over the past few years. The media began to recognize the issue when Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison brought it to the public’s attention in August of 2015. Harrison’s six year-old and eight year-old sons each received participation trophies at the end of a sports season like many kids. “I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned,” he captioned a photo on social media of the trophies, “And I’m not about to raise two boys to men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best… because sometimes your best is not enough.” Harrison’s firm viewpoint gained a tremendous amount of support. Former NFL Super Bowl champ Kurt Warner agreed with Harrison and went a step further by saying kids do not pass class for just showing up (Wallace, 2015, p. 1). Co-author of “Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing” Ashley Merryman (2015) worries if children are told how wonderful they are no matter what they do or do not accomplish, these young athletes are more likely to be narcissistic. A study in 2015 found that children whose parents overpraised them were more prone to develop narcissistic traits. Traits such as superiority and entitlement are two qualities which are not necessarily going to benefit kids when the going gets tough. Participation trophies do not give kids room to make mistakes nor learn from their mistakes (Wallace, 2015, p. 2). A poll released recently found 57 percent of respondents were against participation trophies. The vast majority of the remaining 43 percent were wealthier and more politically conservative respondents (Melamed, 2015, p. 1). Jean Twenge (2015), a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, claims:
“All of the research converges on that the best way to motivate kids is to reward them for good performance and when they’re little, for effort as well. The problem with a participation trophy is it doesn’t even reward effort. It rewards showing up, and in some leagues, apparently you don’t even need to show up. That’s really sending the wrong message.”
She also believes the kids on a steady diet of participation trophies will grow anxious and depressed at record levels (Melamed, 2015, p. 2).
When children are small, encouraging them to play and rewarding their performance with a participation trophy is not always a bad idea, but participation trophies are not helpful after a certain age. Kids need to understand everyone is not created equally. Recreation sports are about learning skills and life lessons. Being showered with trophies, no matter the outcome of a game, defeats the original intent of the sport (Diaz, 2015). Some leagues have even taken the next step by setting a participation trophy age cut off. Initially, kids love awards and trophies, but as they get older, they want to earn a trophy (Melamed, 2015, p. 2). The New York Times (2015) reports trophy and award sells total to about $3 billion yearly in the United States. Sadly, sports for kids is not a healthy part of growing up anymore. In handing children participation trophies, they are being taught little or no effort is more than good enough. The children who accept this mentality are being set up for failure, and they are the children who will be less productive citizens when grown.
Others, however, see the argument over participation trophies unnecessary. A common argument for the participation trophy claims the trophy acknowledges the time and effort the child puts forth. Also, the child receives a memento of the experience (Wallace, 2015, p. 1). When kids are young, it is important to build self esteem. They have the rest of their lives to deal with rejection, but I believe kids should learn early on the world does not hand out trophies. Under New Jersey soccer rules, you cannot keep score for kids younger than eleven. Barry Fitzgerald, assistant commissioner of Marlton Soccer in New Jersey, claims it is important for the kids to feel good about themselves. Participation trophies to some is viewed simply as a job well done. The child made it through the season. Although the players are on different levels, they went through the same training, so they should be recognized (Melamed, 2015, p. 2). Parent Anne Harney said her son has not received a participation trophy since he was three. She was surprised to find every participant is given a ‘grown up’participation medal at the end of each race she runs. It was even more surprising to her when the adults were more enthusiastic about them than the young athletes. Everyone received the same medal whether it took him 45 minutes or several hours to complete the race (Melamed, 2015, p. 3).
As a student athlete, I know the feeling of loss and disappointment, but that feeling makes me strive harder to become better. When my team loses, I work even harder, so next time I will be prepared and not lose. When my grade is not as good as it should be, I study harder, so the next time I will improve. Being congratulated for losing a game seems wrong, but that is the mentality children are being taught today. If children do not accept their losses, there is no room for improvement. If there is no room for improvement, children will accept failure and think it is okay.
Diaz, G. (2015, August 20). George Diaz: Kids don’t deserve participation trophies, medals for showing up. Orlando Sentinel, The (FL).
Kelly Wallace, C. (2015, August 18). Does sports participation deserve a trophy? Let the parental debate begin!. CNN Wire.
Melamed, S. (2015, August 19). To give or not to give participation trophies. Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA).