Each of my kids has been involved in sports since they were 3 years old. When Little Big Man started soccer, he just wasn’t into it. He would stand in one place and watch the airplanes go by or pick a blade of grass and study it. All this while the other kids ran up and down the field. We would tell him to kick the ball. He would reply, “I’ll kick it if it comes to me.” And he still wouldn’t do it.
Of course, it was agonizing. But I always told him that I just wanted him to try. He certainly didn’t object to playing soccer. He happily attended practices and dressed for his games. He just wouldn’t participate.
There were other kids who wouldn’t even go out on the field. Who would sit in their parent’s lap on the sidelines and have a royal fit if anyone tried to cajole them into going out to play.
Then there were the kids who went out on the field and hustled. They ran up and down the field for the whole 45 minutes. They kicked, or tried to kick, the ball.
So when, toward the end of the season, the parents decided to put money in to get all the kids a trophy, I was shocked. Because all the kids did not deserve a trophy. Only half the team had earned a trophy. So I told the team mom that I would not be buying Little Big Man a trophy because he had not earned a trophy. Then the coach tried to convince me that getting him a trophy would encourage Little Big Man to want to continue to play. Come again? How does a reward for non-performance encourage anyone to want to start to perform?
As it turned out, I was the only parent on the team who refused to purchase my kid a trophy. At the coach’s request, we therefore skipped the end of season party since everyone else was going to get a trophy.
When Flower Child started sports, she was an altogether different person. My ultra feminine, pink princess became a competitive machine on the soccer field. And she wasn’t very good at first. But she tried. She ran up and down the field for the entire game, never refused to go out and play, and would help other kids get up if they’d fallen down. So she got a trophy.
I talk to my kids all the time about earning what they get. Our family does not subscribe to the everything-you-do-is-great mindset. I have no problem setting standards for my young kids and letting them know when they have fallen short, helping them develop their own plan for improvement and then giving them an accurate assessment of their efforts. They are told they have done a great job only when, in fact, the have done a great job. That means over and above what is expected. You don’t get a pat on the back just for waking up in the morning.
It saddens me to see so many of the kids in little league sports being set up for a false sense of entitlement, regardless of effort or talent. I am wondering if people only do this for little kids or if it goes right up to high school. But here are the reasons why kids should not be given participation trophies.
1. Participation trophies encourage kids to become lazy. Why bother putting forth any effort if you know you’re going to receive a reward at the end anyway?
2. Participation trophies create a false sense of entitlement. When was the last time you got something just because your friends and neighbors got something? This is how I think about participation trophies. Little Johnny got one so Little Sue should get one, despite the fact that Johnny ran his tuckus off for the duration of every game and Sue sat on the sidelines crying most of the time. This is ludicrous to me. And I think the kids begin to realize it after a point.
3. Participation trophies do NOT intrinsically improve a kids’ self esteem. People develop self esteem by working toward something, perhaps failing, working a little harder and then by accomplishing those goals. Not by receiving a reward for non- or poor porformance.
Finally, I also think the use of the participation trophy takes away from the kids who actually put forth an effort. All the kids on the team know who worked hard and who didn’t. So how do the kids who went out there and hustled feel when, at the end of the season, everyone gets the same trophy? How does the participation trophy reward those kids for their efforts and improve their self esteem? How does such a display encourage the kids who actually made an effort? Or does it show them that their effort wasn’t necessary after all?
I think the participation trophy is not only a bad idea for the kids who made little or no effort but it is even worse for the kids who worked hard as it provides for them a disincentive to participate. So ultimately, the participation trophy encourages mediocre effort from everyone and everyone expects a reward.