Participation Trophies Need To Go, Now!



Which of these do you think is the definition of the word Trophy?

An object (such as a large cup or sculpture) that is given as a prize for winning a competition.


An object (such as a large cup or sculpture) that is given as a reward for any level of participation in a competition, regardless of the outcome.

When I was growing up, I had two trophies which I proudly displayed on a book shelf in my bedroom.  One was for taking 2nd Place in the Pinewood Derby when I was in Cub Scouts.  The other was when my soccer team took 2nd Place.  It was the best season we ever had and the highest we ever ranked.  For the record, I didn’t feel deserving of the trophy, even though it was earned as a team for our efforts, because I was the worst player on the team.  I wasn’t harassed or bullied into thinking so, I really was the worst player on the team.  I knew it.  My teammates knew it.  I was fine with it then and I’m fine with it now.  However, those same teammates convinced me that we earned 2nd Place together.  As a team.  So I should have the trophy.  By the way, my father coached that team and he never treated me special.  In fact, during practice one afternoon, I was being a bit disruptive and he made me take several lapps around the field.  Yes, I was tired from the lapps but I learned my lesson.  But that’s a story for another article.

I faced many challenges growing up because I had (and still have) a handicap.  I’m legally blind.  Again, I was fine with it then and I am fine with it now.  I tried sports I wasn’t very good at and failed all the time.  I was the kid in gym class that nobody wanted on their team and who almost always got picked last.  I usually had to sit in the front row of my classes so I could read the board.  I had HUGE large print versions of textbooks that were heavier than everyone else’s.  I also got to read the Olympic Oath in front of the whole school when my elementary school celebrated the Winter Olympics in 1980; because I wrote the best essay on why I wanted to do it.  I appeared on the local television news twice to read the weather forecast in spanish during my middle school’s celebration of National Foreign Language Week in 1982 and 1984; because I worked hard and was a star student in spanish class.  I discovered that I actually could play basketball and pool and volleyball and mini-golf and some other sports pretty well.  Basically, I have kicked ass and have gotten my ass kicked.  All without one…single…participation…trophy!

Now I, along with most people who know me, consider myself a very open minded person.  But you will never convince me that participation trophies are necessary.  I have heard and read a ton of arguments that say they bolster self-esteem and confidence.  Do you know what I say to that?


What they actually do is promote false senses of accomplishment and entitlement while simultaneously devaluing the hard work of anyone who has actually done what is worthy of earning a trophy.

Now, for those parents who say, “Hey, my kid needs to know their effort counted,” I say, “I agree.  But telling them that is your job and the coach’s job; it doesn’t deserve a trophy!”  And by the way, that’s if the kid actually put forth an effort.  Standing on the field picking your nose and staring off into space is not an effort!  Now, I do believe in awards for most improved player or best effort or things like that.  Just not for the nose-picking kid who probably doesn’t want to be there anyway.

And, for those parents who say, “Hey, they’re all winners,” I say, “No, they’re not.”  I’m not saying they’re losers, I’m saying that not everyone is a winner.  Not having a trophy DOES NOT MAKE YOU A LOSER and anyone who says it does, should be quiet.

Healthy competition is good in all aspects of life.  It helps us to want to do better and push ourselves.  It teaches us how to win and lose gracefully.  Giving a child a trophy just for showing up diminishes the value of what a trophy really is.  Trophies should go from 1st to 3rd place.  After that, you get pizza. And come on, who doesn’t love pizza?!?

Degrees and diplomas aren’t given to students who just go to school.  Don’t even get me started on “No Child Left Behind” though.  Oscars and Emmys and Grammys and Tonys aren’t given to every movie or show and every performer. Only one team in the NFL gets the SuperBowl Ring.  Only one team in the NHL gets the Stanley Cup…  Catch my drift?

Don’t get me wrong, I know that participation trophies are for children but, why are they even necessary?  I never had any, and my self esteem or confidence or worth weren’t diminished because of it.  In fact, I strongly believe that those things would have been disproportionately high and wrong had I been given participation trophies.  I had to work harder than most to do some of the things that better-sighted people take for granted.  I had parents who instilled self-confidence and self-worth in me.  Who taught me that you don’t get rewarded for doing what you’re supposed to do.  You get rewarded for doing extraordinary things, exceeding expectations, or at least trying harder than everyone else; and even THAT isn’t a guarantee.  Showing up doesn’t mean you get honored.  Showing up means you get an opportunity.  And what you do with that opportunity is up to you.  Children DON’T need participation trophies.  What they DO need is for their parents and families and friends and teachers and coaches to actually teach them the lessons of life.

I know that deep down, we all want to take our children’s pain away.  But you can’t do that.  Life is about experiences.  Good and bad.  Our children must be allowed to realize this.  That while not being the best is not the end of the world, being the best requires hard work and dedication.  That failure WILL happen.  Just like it did to these people…

The true measure of a person is how they deal with the things that go wrong in their lives, their pain, their disappointments.  If we take those things away from them, if we tell them that all they have to do to be recognized is just show up, they will grow up to expect things to be handed to them.  They won’t strive to be better, to take risks, to become more than they thought they could be.  They will accept a life of mediocrity because they got a trophy;  just like the one the best player got.  So why should they work for it?

I’ll close this article with this segment from comedian Christopher Titus.  I’ll warn you that the language is NSFW (Not Safe For Work).

I’d like this article to turn into a discussion.  Please leave comments if you have them.  If you like this article, or even hate it, pass it on.  We need to have an intelligent discussion about this issue.


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