The Case for the Participation Trophy

Logging on to Twitter this morning I immediately noticed a new hashtag being thrown around, #participationtrophy. A quick search revealed that James Harrison, a Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker, recently posted a photograph of his own kids “2015 Best of the Batch Next Level Athletics Student-Athlete Awards” participation trophies and stated that he was returning them to teach his kids a lesson.

They must learn to “EARN a real trophy”.

They must learn that “sometimes your best is not enough”.


I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best…cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy. #harrisonfamilyvalues

Participation trophies have long been a controversial thing in this country with older generations claiming that offering kids rewards for doing nothing more than showing up and trying is teaching them that entitled to something. Baby-boomers especially seem to think this “coddling” stunts a boys ability to become a “real man”. It turns our children into sissy.

I grew up in a houeshold where doing my best was enough. There were many years when report cards went home and my mother lectured me about really trying. She told me that if she knew my best was a D than she would be happy. Instead she knew I could do better and that was why I was now in trouble.

My parents didn’t get everything right but I think this is one they did. They didn’t want me to feel badly about where I stood in comparison to my peers. For them, participation was enough, but it had to be real participation. Now that I am an adult I am thankful for that. We all can’t be the best at everything and for a child to be told that their best wasn’t good enough and they need to try harder can be devastating to their self esteem.

What is good for their self-esteem is for their best to be seen and appreciated.

I took that lesson with me and now on the days when I did my best and things don’t turn out the way I wanted them to I don’t stress about it. I do my best and that is all I can do. I know that as long as I tried as hard as I could, as long as I gave 100%, I was good enough.

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I think this culture of hyper-competitivness is at best, unnecessary, and at worst, harmful to a child’s development. A participation trophy does not teach a kid he doesn’t have to try harder. You think your kid doesn’t know that he lost? Of course he does! He knows him and his team did not win first place, we’ve all been there, we all know that hurts. But when you give a kid and his team something to take home, something to hold on to, it fosters that drive to win.

I keeps kids from being crushed before they can develop a tough shell against such loses. These kids aren’t ready for that hit to their psyche. Recognizing their effort keeps them loving the sports they are playing and keeps them coming back so they will try harder.

How hard is it to get a kid to keep trying and giving 100% after they have become frustrated? Yeah you can keep dropping them off at practice but your kid is going to be out there playing the lazy game. He’s going to remember that year when he tried his best and lost and got nothing but a lecture about how is best wasn’t good enough. He’s going to remember that year and think he can’t do it.

Instead, I say give that kid a trophy, a ribbon, something he can see, something he can hold on to. Let him know that you see him trying and with practice and time to hone his skill his next trophy can be even bigger one. I bet you he keeps giving his all.

And maybe that’s enough for first place next time, and maybe it isn’t, but it should always be enough for you, his parent.

Original image via Ryan Tir


8 Replies to “The Case for the Participation Trophy”

  1. Wow! I
    Sure I’m not in the majority but I completely agree. There is far too much emphasis on winning and being the best. Parents are ridiculous when it comes to grades as well. They don’t care how they get them, but they really want to see straight A’s. When do we say to a kid, you are enough. What you did is enough. Not everyone can win. Not everyone can get straight A’s or win the basketball championship. I think our emphasis is on the wrong thing. We are setting these kids up to fail and have poor self esteem. You’re only great if you’re on top mentality makes me sick . Great post. Reward kids for trying their best and putting on the time and effort. An accomplishment for one kid may be winning the race when the greatest accomplishment for another is finishing it. Who defines winning?


    1. I’ve met so many kids in my line of work that just want to be told they are good enough. Yeah they make mistakes, yeah they don’t give 100% all the time, but they still need to know they are good just the way they are. I think parents forget that they are the ones their kids look to for approval, and they forget how it was for them when they didn’t get it in their own childhood.

      Thanks for reading :)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. With my son’s first field day experience at school, he came home with ribbons that were blank and I was confused, when I was I in school three ribbons were given out 1st 2nd and 3rd place that’s it, now I couldn’t imagine how a kid would feel trying to win a ribbon all afternoon only to come home empty handed. When Jordan shows me his ribbons it’s not just about what place he came in but about all the events he tried, the fun he had, and most importantly the exercise he got.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t even consider that part. The reward isn’t just for winning, but also a souvenier for what that kid actually did. It’s something to show off to say “Look mom! Today I played this or that game and I had a ton of fun!”. Maybe we should all just calm down and be happy the kids got out, ran around, and had a good time! Sheesh! :)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I was a kid who never would’ve won trophies without participation trophies, and getting something in recognition of my efforts was a really heartening thing at times. It reminded me that what I did mattered, even if I wasn’t the best at it. I get so annoyed with the competition culture and with statements that put down the idea of celebrating hard work.


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