This approach to kids’ sports isn’t unusual. When I played sports growing up, I was a mediocre athlete at best (I was the kid out in far left field picking flowers)-yet at the end of the sport season I received a participation trophy. I think my generation is the generation of participation trophies. Heaven forbid if we got our feelings hurt.
The idea is to teach kids that sports are about having fun, not only about winning (and losing). The concept is wonderfully warm and fuzzy, but many child experts are finding that this approach is doing more harm than good. Today’s kids are growing up in a unrealistic world where everyone goes home with a trophy, a medal or a ribbon for just showing up and doing nothing particularly special. Sports teams are passing out so many tokens of recognition that the that “trophy and award sales are now an estimated $3 billion-a-year industry in the United States and Canada,” journalist Ashley Merryman noted in a New York Times op-ed piece about this culture that over-rewards kids. Is this good for kids? What happens when these kids don’t get into the college of their dreams? Will they have the coping skills to deal with such loss? What happens when these kids start their first jobs? Are they going to expect a raise just for showing up?
Merryman, who co-wrote the blockbuster parenting book Nurture Shock with San Francisco dad Po Bronson, believes this “nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed.” She explains:
By age 4 or 5, children aren’t fooled by all the trophies. They are surprisingly accurate in identifying who excels and who struggles. Those who are outperformed know it and give up, while those who do well feel cheated when they aren’t recognized for their accomplishments. They, too, may give up.
It turns out that, once kids have some proficiency in a task, the excitement and uncertainty of real competition may become the activity’s very appeal.
If children know they will automatically get an award, what is the impetus for improvement? Why bother learning problem-solving skills, when there are never obstacles to begin with?
If I were a baseball coach, I would announce at the first meeting that there would be only three awards: Best Overall, Most Improved and Best Sportsmanship. Then I’d hand the kids a list of things they’d have to do to earn one of those trophies. They would know from the get-go that excellence, improvement, character and persistence were valued.
As a parent I fear that I will find it difficult to provide opportunities for my children to win and lose, especially in those early, impressionable years, from preschool to third grade. I fear they will be playing on fields and courts where nobody keeps score and wont experience the joy of winning and the sting of defeat.
I don’t want my children growing up thinking that they can go half way and still get a trophy or put in half the effort in class and still get an A, an award or a trophy (even if it’s the seventh place trophy). I would rather that they learn the lesson that they have to work hard and earn things based on their own merit.
Wouldn’t life be a breeze if everyone “earned a trophy” as they grew into an adult? Applying for your dream job? Just show up and it’s yours. Want to get into a prestigious PhD program? Everyone gets an acceptance letter.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t support out children, make them feel loved or encourage them to participate in life. Instead, the next time that your little one cries because Johnny won first place at the swim meet and he didn’t even get a trophy, calmly explain that not everyone can win all of the time. Sure, that metallic-coated plastic trophy sparkles with a faux shine, but “winning” it for just being there doesn’t inspire your child to succeed.
In conclusion, not every kid deserves a trophy. You know who does deserve a trophy? The kid who works the hardest. The kid who puts in the most time. The kid who shows up and BRINGS IT.
But after that, kids deserve what they put in, nothing more and nothing less. And I’m not getting all “American bootstraps mentality for the win!” on ya. Come on. I know there’s more to the story than that, and hard work alone doesn’t guarantee “success” in the world, but I also know 100% that I cannot teach my kids the world is here to serve them, or even, really, as harsh as this sounds, that the world cares about them. The world does not care about my kids. The world cares about itself.
My job is teach my kids to ask themselves “What can I contribute to the world?” Rather than “What can I take from it?” So many takers. I want to raise givers. If you want to see the number of takers in the world just look at the popularity of Bernie Sanders. His whole campaign is being boosted by a bunch of takers. (Yes, I just went there).
Imagine if we all raised kids who grew up asking what they could contribute to the situation, to each other, and to the world? Imagine if we taught kids that there are winners and losers? Imagine if we taught kids the value of hard work and dedication? Imagine if we taught kids that not everyone deserves a trophy just for showing up.