The Participation Trophy Debate

Is a Participation Trophy a way of motivating children — or devaluing achievement?

Over the last couple of decades, we’ve seen the emergence of a modern trend that emphasizes positive reinforcement in sports. The result? Kids in many activities have begun bringing home awards, trophies and ribbons simply for participating in an activity or on a team. Is rewarding a child for simply showing up sending the wrong message — or is it a team-building and esteem-building tool?

By Jillian Chamberlain

The great Participation Trophy Debate received renewed attention last month when James Harrison, a professional NFL player for the Pittsburg Steelers, posted a photo on his Instagram account stating that he was going to have his two sons return the participation trophies that they had received. Harrison had the following to say in his Instagram comment:

The post garnered scorn from trophy supporters, who argue that participation trophies remind young kids that they are part of something, and they may help build enthusiasm so the kids will return for another season. The trophies, some feel, are along the lines of the team T-shirt and car magnet — a pleasant reminder (especially during the off-season) of time well-spent.

Others argue that there are different ways of accomplishing camaraderie, while still awarding only excellence or unique achievements like, say, most improved player. Team pizza parties and post-game gatherings can be held to honor the team for their collective accomplishment. Such gatherings remind kids that their effort is valued, regardless of ability or results.

Rewarding children for for their participation and effort certainly is important — just think how you’d feel if your boss didn’t care whether or not you showed up to work or, worse, how hard you tried to do well at your job. But should everyone get an actual trophy? Or should certain awards be reserved only for those who are exceptional? Or are physical trophies and awards not necessary (or desirable) at all?

To be sure, many coaches, instructors and teachers have strong opinions on the subject. And many parents take matters into their own hands, as Harrison did, if they disagree.

One thing, though, that almost everyone can agree on — kids deserve to stretch their legs and their minds, to enjoy more friend-time and less screen-time, and to find a fun activity or two to rejuvenate them. Help your child find a class or activity that they are passionate about: Check out the thousands of activity listings that we have in your area!  If you like, you can give yourself a gold star for checking us out — or not. It’s really up to you!