How are Participation Trophies Changing the Meaning of Sports?

Participation trophies are given to young children for their effort, and in their eyes all they see is a beautiful gold sculpture, which is really a piece of plastic painted to look like gold.  At a young age, competitiveness and an appreciation for the sport aren’t taught and it is causing kids to grow up with self-centered attitudes because they’ve never had to work for anything.  They know that if they give a little bit of effort, they will always be rewarded with a trophy.  This issue has sparked a huge controversy about whether coaches should be handing out participation trophies.  More importantly, how will the trophy generation handle themselves later in sports and also later in life?  

Today’s society revolves around praising one another, especially in our youth. Over the years, the current generation has been labeled as soft and our society has changed to make everyone feel accepted and have a sense of value in themselves. Participation trophies are one of the changes that people believe are responsible for our delicate society. The discussion of participation trophies has been a more recent topic over the past decade and has many negative effects on our children as we teach them the wrong lessons. From more popular sources such as the Huffington Post’s “Why Trophies are Bad for Kids”, to more academic sources such as O’Sullivan’s “The Great Trophy Debate” it has proven that trophies given out merely for participation do way more harm than good. The Telegram’s article “Did we set up Children for Success” or something less shows that giving out trophies for just showing up can lead to kids to try less, and feel entitled as they get older and enter the workforce. They also enforce the idea that everyone is equal and deserves the same regardless of the amount of effort that they put in.

Future NFL Hall of Famer, James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers, explains how he does not believe that his boys should be rewarded with participation trophies for just showing up, and that everything they get should be earned. This train of thinking is slowly becoming more common within today’s society. Sport psychologist Dan Gould says that this generation is now referred to as the “trophy generation.” In addition to this label, youth soccer coach Lucas Capalbo says, “I think that every time there’s a trophy, you’re implicitly telling the kids that whatever you do, there will be a reward in the end. That’s when it gets tricky because doing a good or a bad job, they will still expect something in the end.” Without the drive to want to be the best, we will begin to see a decrease in long term participation in sports, once the age of participation trophies passes. Berdan, explains how she believes that trophies no longer symbolize success, but instead have become party favors. Stanford Researcher Carol Dweck explains how her research of over 40 years has found that children who have had too much praise when they didn’t deserve it became less resilient. Participation trophies allow kids to no longer be internally motivated through sport which can have a negative long term impact on not only the kid mentally but also physically.

Participation trophies, in the eyes of some, are seen to be effective and help youth. Praising children and rewarding them constantly builds up their confidence and work ethic according to some studies. Cornell University ran a study on participation trophies and found that trophies are not harmful in any way to children’s psyches. They realized that praising kids for their success motivates them to work hard and repeat their actions. Participation trophies are also very effective in youth sports to catch their interest and get them invested when being introduced to something new. Tom Farrey, the author of Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children, states in his book that *PULL QUOTE*“From ages 0 to 12, the goal is to help kids fall in love with sports, to want to come back the next year, to want to go into the backyard and improve their technique.” *PULL QUOTE*Making children interested and giving them a sense of value with participation trophies plays a role in children sticking to a sport and enjoy playing. As people hold value to the trophies, people believe the trophies are only effective for certain age groups. In the book, Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture, by Hilary Levey Friedman, she states “as kids get older participation trophies lose their meaning…But that first participation trophy, it does mean something, especially among the younger kids.” This means trophies are effective at young ages to let them remember their effort and work towards their sport. Trophies can be seen necessary for building up children’s confidence and making them feel valued but there are both sides to the argument and there is negatives that come along with the trophies as well. Overall, participation trophies are changing the meaning of sports for better or for worse.

George Kirby: Why are Participation Trophies so Popular?

Dean McCarthy: The Negative Effects of Participation Trophies

Aleigh Meredith: Alternative Options to Participation Trophies

Joe Satterfield: Why Participation Trophies are Negatively Affecting Sports

Wesley Smith: Participation Trophies Damages Work Ethic

Participation Additional Reading