We give too many trophies to children

In Defense of Participation Trophies: Why They Really Teach the Right Values

Many parents hate participation trophies, and Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison is no exception. He recently posted his dislike on Instagram, arguing that his sons, ages 6 and 8, need to learn that everything in life is to be earned and that effort alone is not a reason for recognition.

Should children receive entry trophies? James Harrison says no way

Aug 17,201501: 36

These shiny pieces of plastic have been blamed for creating a legitimate generation who have learned to expect an admiration for the unusual on the field and later in life. There has been little or no research to prove the benefits or harms of participation trophies in sport. Yet they symbolized our fear that we are too simple for our children and unable to teach them the sharper realities of life.

When my kids were young and receiving trophies, I was ambivalent at best, feeling that sharing a seasonal pizza with their team was an appropriate reward for practicing, playing in games, and learning to be a teammate.


But as my sons got older, the values ​​these trophies instill in young children became clearer.

As parents, we would like to assume that families and children who sign up for a team honor this commitment and show up. We hope that we teach our youngest children to love exercise of all kinds, knowing that it is good for the mind and body. We would like to believe that most coaches and parents value the effort and process of learning a sport, its rules, skills and protocols, not just the outcome of the game.

And we'd be wrong.

Children join teams, but they don't always attend practices or show up at games. Allison Slater Tate, mother of four and editor of Club Mid at Scary Mommy, thinks that trophies are an educational lesson: “There's something to teach kids that it's worth making a commitment, that we value it. Winning and losing is not a lesson for children to seek. It is everywhere. But they also need to learn how important it is for everyone to show up. "

Participation trophies remind young children they are part of something and can help build enthusiasm to return for another season, said Tom Farrey, executive director of the Sports and Society Program at the Aspen Institute and author of Game On: The All-American races to make our kids' champions. "

"From 0 to 12 years old, the goal is to help kids fall in love with the sport, want to come back next year, go to the back yard and improve their technique," said Farrey. He warns against focusing on winning and losing in the years before that. "There is a time and place to separate the weak from the strong, but only when they grow into your body, mind and interests."

Another reason to defend trophies for everyone is the fact that at a time when parents are complaining about increased competition in youth sports, parents remember that we value their performance, regardless of ability or results. Participation trophies tell them it is important that they show up for practice, learn the rules and rituals of the game, and work hard.

Finally, we offer these rewards to remind our youngest children that there is value in being part of a team. It's a lifelong lesson that can't be taught too young when you are there for your teammates and those in your life, when it suits you, or when Saturday morning cartoons are a lot more fun.

"The idea of ​​giving trophies only to the winners doesn't emphasize enough other values ​​that are important," says Kenneth Barish, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychology at Weill Medical College at Cornell University and author of "Pride and Joy: A Guide to Emotions understand your child and solve family problems. "" We want children to participate in sports, learn to improve their skills, help others, work hard and contribute to the team. "

But what about the kid who doesn't work hard? The kid who knows he'll get a trophy no matter what, so he doesn't have to make an effort? “There will always be children who don't work hard. There will always be children who don't work hard on a winning team, ”explains Barish. “And I rarely meet a kid who doesn't work hard because they think they're going to get a trophy anyway. When I encounter this attitude, it is a symptom of a deeper problem the boy is struggling to experience. "

When my son was around eight, at the end of one of his last seasons with participation trophies, he scoffed at the fact that such an award was still being offered. He told me everyone would get a trophy so it didn't matter. I realized that this recognition probably ended at just the right moment for him. Hilary Levey Friedman, sociologist and author of “Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture”, believes these trophies only dominate the youngest: “Think of the times when children believed in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, Than The rule of thumb is that a gold trophy is also magical. "

In her research among children involved in highly competitive activities, Friedman found that “as children get older [participation trophies] lose their meaning ... But this first participation trophy means something, especially among the younger children. The children see them more as symbols and memories of an experience. "

Friedman points out that the context in which the trophies are given conveys their meaning. Offering a trophy to a young child can be an empty gesture unless instructors and parents tell kids Why they are forgiven.

I never had to teach my son that he had to win competitions to be rewarded. Life, many athletic defeats, and other setbacks taught him this lesson. Despite the fact that he would play on many teams and win other prizes, he never dropped these early entry trophies. He's in college now, but they're still sitting on his shelf as a nice reminder of a team that showed up, played hard and - if I remember correctly - lost every game.

Lisa Heffernan is a writer, mother of three, and co-founder of the parenting blog Grown and Flown, where she thinks about raising teens and young adults. She can be reached on Facebook and Twitter.