Participation Trophies – “Special” or “Harmful”

Participation Trophies – “Special” or “Harmful”


HBO Real Sports aired a story recently about participation trophies for youth programs, i.e. regardless of winning or losing, everyone gets a trophy. The piece examines the long-term implications of participation trophies, essentially asking is this a good idea for the next generation and our culture.

Pro: It’s just a trophy or a ribbon. It makes the kid feel good about being on a team, competing and having fun. They don’t feel left out or “less than” their peers who won the league. It makes every kid feel special. It raises their self-esteem. It’s a big “atta-boy.” Parents feel good about it and the kids feel good about it. It reinforces the notion that sports is fun and increases the odds that a child will want to return to play other sports/get another trophy.

Con: It actually harms a child to constantly praise a child for merely showing up. It artificially raises pseudo-self esteem. The trophy actually takes away the motivation to improve… it keeps kids from feeling frustration and I experiencing failure. The experts (researchers, psychiatrists and doctors) in the segment say this is doing our kids no favors. When they get to college/work and struggle, they are more likely to give up than dig in. They are more likely to blame their professor/boss instead of looking inside themselves. Why? Because they have always been told that they are special. This is why they quote a study that documents that over 50% of college students believe they should get at least a B just for showing up and participating. This sense of entitlement is dangerous for our culture.

Dr. Hoedel’s Perspective: I’m old school on this one. I think participation, competition, teamwork and enjoyment should be its own rewards for participating in sports. I say skip the additional fee of the trophy and hold a team banquet at Dairy Queen.  I believe that a coach, parent and teammates can do a better job of improving self-worth throughout the season than a trophy can provide after the season. I believe that building character is more important than trying to give a child self-esteem via a ribbon. Learn to lose with dignity, applaud those that bested you and work hard to improve. I believe these lessons will translate from the athletic field to school, college, career and life. As Hellen Keller once wrote, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

Your Turn: Please provide your name, email and comments below. Please use respectful language and don’t bash those who provide a different point of view. 

1) What is your opinion of participation trophies/medals/ribbons? Use complete sentences. Please provide a thorough argument like I did above. Compare and contrast.

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