Participation Trophies: My Thoughts.

This popped up in my Facebook feed this week:


I was immediately nodding my head in agreement and sharing with my friends, many of whom agreed, too.

Coupla things before I proceed:
1. We aren’t even going to address the spanking part of this, though we could, and I’d have a lot to say.
2. I worked for several years in character education. I am wholeheartedly supportive of community building, encouraging kids to find their strengths, etc, etc, etc.

But things have gone way too far.

I didn’t even realize this was an issue until Luke completed his first season of almost-real (read: very modified rules as the kids were like 6 years old) baseball a few years ago. We got invited to a very simple trophy ceremony at the ballpark. Immediately, I thought, “Trophy? They don’t even keep score in this league. There are no rankings. No one won anything!”

Of course, we let him go and get his trophy. We aren’t horrible, mean parents. But I did start having conversations with Luke then about how really, trophies should be reserved for actually winning something meaningful. And this year, when he’s in a league (albeit, a not-very-competitive one, but that’s ok) where records are kept and they got second place, his team is getting a trophy. Good for them.

This really says it all:

I love you, The Incredibles.

Trophies used to be special! They used to mean that you, as an individual or part of a team, did something so exceptional that it should be recognized. Now of course, this also means that not everyone is going to win a trophy, and yes, that can be sad. But for a parent who is paying attention, not winning a trophy provides a wonderful teachable moment.

That teachable moment might include talking about what could be done to work towards trophy status (trying harder if lack of focus or laziness might be an issue) or talking about finding another activity that your child might excel in or how, guess what, not everyone wins every time. Or, talking about times when you the parent excelled or didn’t as a child, and what that’s meant to you as you’ve grown. We all know that everyone isn’t a trophy-winning baseball player. Or artist. Or fill-in-the-blank. But everyone IS good at something.

I loved, when I worked in classrooms, to see teachers really get this. My favorite example is having a board in the room where each kid gets to pin up one piece of work of which they’re most proud. It might be artwork for a student that struggles with academics; it might be an A on a math test for one kid, or a B on some writing that a child found challenging but knew he’d done his best on. Point is? Kids can learn pretty early on to work hard for something they really want, and they can be encouraged to figure out what they’re good at so that they can learn what success feels like. Feeling successful is good. But so is learning from failures, mistakes, and giving something your best effort but still not winning.

We are going to be in a world of hurt when these kids who get trophies for achieving nothing more than being dropped off at practice and their baseball games on time grow up and take over. The issue of fairness is already huge now; can you imagine 20 years from now?

Alright then. I’m finished. Talk amongst yourselves. Thoughts? Do share.

28 responses to “Participation Trophies: My Thoughts.

  1. I agree with you, and on the flip side of rewarding everyone is punishing everyone in order to avoid dealing with the real problem. Teachers at my children’s school (I should say district because I have witnessed it at many of our schools) punish the entire class and sometimes the entire grade level for something that a few children are doing wrong. And it’s always the same children who never learn from it. It makes my kids so upset to constantly be punished for what someone else is doing repeatedly.
    I have seen entire grade levels have their recess taken away because two children broke the ‘absolutely no talking during lunch’ rule. First of all I would like to see an adult try and not say a word during lunch time, and secondly the grade level all had to sit on the playground with their heads between their knees! I was furious, and of course voiced my opinion.

  2. The summer swim teams out here have a big championship meet called All City. The top 2 swimmers in every event in every age group get to swim in it. It’s strictly based on their times so it’s very black and white. Every year the teams announce who is going to swim in it (although most already know). Last year they talked about emailing the people who made it so no one’s feelings would be hurt. What? Even if my kids didn’t make it, I would want them to see who did. I would want them to want to work hard so they could possibly make it the next year. We left that team this summer and I heard they sent out letters to everyone. I’m glad we left.

  3. Good post! Last night Morgan’s coach gave some verbal awards to the girls – MVP, Sportsmanship, Most RBIs, etc. (Morgan wasn’t one of them.) One girl who was not mentioned started to get teary-eyed. Now maybe the girls who didn’t get mentioned will work harder to get the recognition they want…. an idea Morgan verbalized to me later on. There’s nothing to work toward/no goal in mind if everyone is rewarded equally. (Just as long as it’s not the coaches son/daughter winning the awards based solely on nepotism.) Obviously my 9 yr old grasps the concept. And she’s fine with it.

  4. Life is unfair and the sooner these kids learn it, the better. I completely agree that trophies and awards should be reserved for those kids (and adults) who actually deserve it and teachable moments should be met by parents with loving explanation – however, parents are lazy and they don’t want their kids to cry and feel bad so they blame and make excuses. They don’t contain the moment and encourage learning, they blow it up so the next year their less than stellar little athlete/mathlete/spelling “champ”/whatever can feel just as good about being mediocre as the kids that excel and deserve recognition. I’m with you, I’m really nervous about this generation growing up to run the world. What’s next? Everybody who wants to go to the Olympics gets to go? Then everyone that competes gets a metal? Awesome. Way to separate and celebrate the exceptional from the rest of us. Sorry, this topic can get me pretty heated, but I’m a competitive person from a competitive family where mediocrity was not celebrated. I was from the other extreme where less than perfection wasn’t acceptable but that’s healthy either. Balance needs to be found.

    • Great comment! I thought last night after I posted that I should have included a paragraph about how I’m naturally really competitive, but as a kid, didn’t earn trophies for the activities I participated in, because I wasn’t exceptional. And that was ok…I didn’t quit dance or tennis or softball because I wasn’t getting a trophy!

  5. Amen Sister!! Couldn’t have said it any better than you did!

  6. Not only do I wholeheartedly agree w/ your post, I think the replies so far are outstanding as well!

  7. Yes! So true Nicole. Good thoughts. I agree too that I’m loving the replies!

  8. I’m behind you 100% on this. When I was teaching high school, we always ended the year with something called Prize Day where teachers chose one or two students from their classes for an award…it didn’t necessarily have to be who had the highest grade, but it did need to be a student who excelled in one way or another. One year, during the ceremony for the senior class, our guidance counselor got up (unbeknowst to the rest of us), and she had created an award for EVERY single senior. And they were totally bogus awards like “Best Taste in Music” and “Always Has a Smile.” Needless to say, it really annoyed most of the rest of us…not only because it made the ceremony longer to sit through as she read every award, but also because it diminished the hard work of the kids who really DID deserve academic awards. Everyone doesn’t have to win. And I also hate the line “You can be whatever you want to be.” Guess what…NOT TRUE! Like you said, everyone had different talents, and I think it’s really sad that we lead kids to believe they can pursue dreams at which they are destined to fail instead of saying, “Hey, you can’t really be anything. BUT you can discover what your talents are, put in a lot of hard work, and find a lot of happiness and success along the way.” And on the topic of hard work, I think it is actually a good thing that hard work isn’t always rewarded with trophies and such. Because kids need to learn that you don’t do a good job for awards, you do a good job for yourself, for your pride. And giving awards to everyone not only reinforces that things are only worth doing if you get something out of it, but that even then, you don’t have to do that great of a job in order to get the reward. It’s sick. Luckily, even if society as a whole hasn’t caught on to this, parents like you and everyone else who has agreed and responded can at least do their part in ensuring their own kids don’t buy into this. Great post, as always Nicole!

    • OH, I would have died if I was there for that ceremony and the counselor’s antics! Did she do it again the next year, or did you all let her know how ridiculous it was?

      I love that you pointed out the “you can be whatever you want to be” garbage, too…you’re right: you can’t.

      Thanks for your comments!

      • She did not do it again the next year…and she was very aware how the rest of us felt about it. I think her feelings were hurt, probably because she got participation trophies as a kid πŸ™‚

      • As a former h.s. counselor, I just have to say . . . that counselor wasn’t busy enough if she had time to create that list!!! Doing that would have been on my extremely short list of Things to Send Me Screaming into Summer, AND I can’t imagine how tedious it was to listen to!!

  9. It was super tedious! And yes, I wondered where she found all that time as well.

  10. great post! by the time lucy is ready for college, maybe they’ll be giving everyone free rides πŸ™‚

  11. Do you have any suggestions on a child who gets his feelings hurt easily? Hunter is a super sensitive child and I have tried to explain that not everyone wins, you won’t win everytime, you have to give it your best and when you have then that is all anyone can ask of you, keep trying, keep working, never stop learning because no one can know everything, and keep your focus on the things that interest you and improve little by little on all of the things you are interested in to find what you do best.. but none of it ever works. I know, I sound like one of “those” mom’s but I believe in what you are saying, just curious how you get your message across when you have so many people that just hand out rewards. When I play board games with Hunter, I constantly have to remind him of this as well as when he is playing kickball, baseball, keep away, tag, etc with the boys.. he never wants to be “it” or be in the middle, etc. I just don’t know what else to do. I feel like a broken record and he can say all of those saying word from word because of how many times I say it.

    On another note – Nana Jo – I probably would have loved you as a counselor. I will never forget the counselor at my high school telling me I will never succeed in recreation and there will never be any money in recreation. I was crushed but I still got my degree in Commercial Recreation and although I do not use it in my current job, I still get compliments on how well I can put together parties, how well I can plan events and stay organized and how great my ideas are for get-togethers. Granted it may not bring me money but I still LOVE recreation with all my heart and if I were in a different location I really think I would excel. I try to always teach Hunter that if you have a true passion for something then you have to go after it – in my case – recreation – I may not always get a trophy for it but I give it my best and it makes me happy – which I think has to go into play when you really find those things you want to get a trophy for. She wanted me to go into accounting because… I was good with numbers.. but I could never excel or get a trophy for something I wasn’t interested in but with my Commercial Recreation degree, I had to be able to use numbers in order to figure out logistic information for events.. so in a way I would use the accounting plus my passion and it would be a win – win for everyone.

    And this post is SUPER true.. and I agree with you.

    • Tina, you bring up a good point. I too have a very sensitive child, and it can be hard in situations where she is not singled out as the best or rewarded along with others. But while it is painful for her now (and exhausting and frustrating for me), I wholeheartedly believe she will be better for it in the long run. Kids need to experience failure so they don’t go out into the world thinking they will win at everything…and this is the perfect time for them to experience failure because we are right there to help them through it and be the “broken record.” If your son can recite you words, you are obviously doing your job, and it IS sinking in. I think sometimes we need to remind ourselves that even though our kids KNOW the right response, they don’t always have the emotional or developmental maturity to act on it. I can only hope it will come with time, because I really do struggle with this with my daughter. You also bring up a good point about following your passion with recreation. That is a great example of teaching our kids that you don’t always HAVE to receive a trophy for a job well done. Satisfaction and pride in oneself SHOULD be enough…we should do things and do them well because it’s the right way to be. NOT to get trophies. So good for you for being a living example of that!

      • Thanks for such a great response, Kelly! You literally said what I would have said…keep doing what you’re doing to help Hunter understand what you’re teaching him. He’ll hopefully get it soon πŸ™‚

        My Luke DEFINITELY always liked to win…he still does, but he generally copes much better with losing now that he’s 9.

  12. Thank you both for the kind words and encouragement!

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