Have we gone trophy-crazy as a society, bestowing trophies on children for almost anything, even just showing up? Are we afraid children will be hurt by losing, so we make everyone a winner? Or are awards an effective way to raise children’s self-esteem and keep them motivated to do better?
Do we give children too many trophies?
Room for Debate recently asked a similar question. Ashley Merryman, the co-author of “NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children,” argues that participation trophies can send a dangerous message:
If children always receive a trophy — regardless of effort or achievement — we’re teaching kids that losing is so terrible that we can never let it happen. This is a destructive message, because how we react to kids’ failure is just as crucial as celebrating their success. A recent study found if parents thought failure was debilitating, their kids adopted that perspective. If parents believed overcoming failure and mistakes made you stronger, then their children believed it, too.
Thus letting kids lose, or not take home the trophy, isn’t about embarrassing children. It’s about teaching them it can take a long time to get good at something, and that’s all right. Kids need to know they don’t have to win every time. It’s O.K. to lose, to make a mistake. (In a study of Gold Medal Olympians, they said a previous loss was key to their championships.)
It’s through failure and mistakes that we learn the most.
We must focus on process and progress, not results and rewards.
Parker Abate, a sophomore athlete who studies communications at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa., disagrees:
In our competitive, sports-laden society, the better athletes play through high school and the elite go on to play in college. These athletes do not care about participation trophies. Their goals are mementos that say “Champions.”
But what about those children who will never get to play competitive sports after the age of 14? Despite knowing that they are not particularly talented, these children go out and participate, generally to the best of their ability. They learn about teamwork, sportsmanship and they learn the importance of exercise. Those are all great things to know.
This is why the trophies that are given to less-talented athletes who participate in youth sports do not have to say “1st Place,” “M.V.P.,” or “Champion.” These young athletes should be honored in lesser ways and all deserve to feel some form of accomplishment.
Self-esteem is a big part of one’s childhood. Watching a peer receive a trophy and not receiving one yourself can be degrading. Any kind of honor can make a young kid feel as if he or she meant something to the team, and that could boost the child’s self-confidence — children today need as much of that as they can get in our society.
Students: Read the entire Room for Debate feature, then tell us:
— Do we give children too many trophies? Do you agree with Ms. Merryman that giving everyone awards, instead of just an exceptional few, teaches children the wrong lesson? Or do you agree with Mr. Abate, that participation trophies can boost young people’s self-esteem?
— Have you ever gotten a trophy you didn’t think you deserved? How did the award make you feel? Did it affect how hard you tried?
— Does the possibility of earning a trophy or an award help to motivate you? Can you give an example?
Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.Continue reading the main story
Recently, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker and scary human-being James Harrison made waves when he took away his sons’ participation trophies. The general public was slightly appalled at the act, but as Harrison said, he was proud of everything his sons did and accomplished, but they didn’t EARN the trophies, and so they were being returned.
Participation trophies are nothing new, as young athletes have been receiving the trophies since the late-70s, a practice started by youth soccer leagues. But they certainly seem more commonplace today, particularly throughout youth sports.
Meanwhile, the debate on whether participation trophies are helpful or detrimental never goes away, and thanks to Harrison, it has once again become a hot topic. And everyone from professional athletes to parents has an opinion on the matter.
Are participation trophies a nice reward or a sign of entitlement? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons:
Pro: A Boost Of Confidence
Not everyone is a winner. It’s simply a fact, as typically 95% of all participants fail to capture a championship in any given sport or season. That’s because only one team or player can win.
However, only praising and rewarding the victor could have damaging affects to those who don’t win, particularly those younger athletes. Giving everyone involved some level of recognition goes a long way toward boosting confidence and promoting future success. It tells the athlete that they may not have won, but they gave it their all, and always giving your best is important.
After all, this year’s loser could be next year’s winner.
Con: We Play To Win The Game
Trying certainly matters, but when it comes down to it, the point of playing sports -- much like any other game -- is to win. So why reward anything less?
Understanding the difference between winning and losing is a wildly important life lesson. It teaches us how to deal with and overcome adversity, and that you don’t always get what you want. It also teaches us how to bounce back and recover from loss, while also providing athletes or performers with drive and purpose to be better.
Few lessons are more important than that.
Pro: Something To Play For
Losing is tough, but losing your interest is easy … especially when the losses start piling up.
For young athletes, it is very easy to lose interest in a sport if they’re not winning, which is why many leagues don’t even keep score at the youngest levels -- but that’s another blog for another day. No one, particularly young kids, wants to feel bad every time they step on the field, court or ice. At the very least, a trophy to display in their bedroom is a nice light at the end of the tunnel for anyone that has to endure a tough season.
Besides, just because you aren’t the best doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to compete at all.
Con: Rewarding Proper Effort
There is no participation award for life. No one is going to simply hand you the life you want, you need to work hard to get the rewards you desire.
That is what James Harrison was trying to say when he took away his sons’ participation trophies. You’re not going to be rewarded for doing your job, and in fact, if you simply show up and don’t perform, you won’t have a job for long. But if you’re the best at what you do and work harder than your competitors, rewards will come.
And that goes for everyone -- whether your job is being a football player, dentist or student.
Should participation be rewarded or are we teaching our young athletes bad life lessons? There are pros and cons to everything, but what do you think? Let us know in the comments.
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Travis Armideo, marketing manager at Gladiator Custom Mouthguards, is a lifelong ice hockey player. He began playing for various clubs at a young age and continued onto junior teams, while also playing lacrosse at the collegiate level. Travis is still heavily involved in athletics, coaching high school and youth ice hockey athletes, as well as playing men’s league ice hockey on a regular basis.