Participation “Rewards”?

Parents want their children to be the best people they can possibly be and to do this, they often insert their kids into various sports and activities to build character. Refrigerators are decorated with certificates and gold stars while the walls are ornamented with ribbons, trophies, and other memorabilia. While this may seem uplifting and confidence- boosting, the message in between the lines could actually be more threatening than rewarding. In the midst of the ribbons and trophies, there is bound to be an unfortunate participation trophy.

Participation trophies have been around for years, allowing equal and fair rewards to be distributed throughout all team members and participants. Just for showing up and playing, you get a trophy. Even if you don’t play, you still get a trophy. This attempts to minimize kids “feeling bad” and acknowledge good work that was invested. However, if this is the case then children will continue growing up with this mindset. We raise kids to prepare for the real world but this is when the idea gets contradictory. We raise them as if they are entering a kind, understanding world just to tell them that the world is actually harsh, unfair, and unjust when they’re older. Participation trophies being given out as kids establish a sense that if they do something, a reward will simply be handed to you. This eventually does the opposite of its intention and inputs a lack of discipline, effort, and patience.

In 2015, Pittsburgh Steelers James Harrison spoke out on Facebook about participation trophies after his sons each received one- claiming he was going to take the trophies away.


While you should 100% earn what you receive, Kevin Kilgour of The Emory Wheel stated, “I find it unlikely that Harrison declines his paycheck following a Steelers loss, nor that he feels any better about the loss despite his reward. Likewise, participation trophies in no way deceive children into being satisfied with losing.”

Eventually, with trophies being handed out like candy to kids, the value begins to fade. Also, the outstanding participants are held to the same standard as the ones on the bench are. Participation trophies are an extra pat on back to simply going out and trying. For somebody to find something they truly love, you must fail and figure out what you are and are not good at. If trophies are being handed out “just because”, it will make the process much longer and difficult due to being blind sighted by what they really may not be good at. Losing may reduce confidence, but earning and winning is worth the effort and time put in. It helps separate those who are good and who are not. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing because nobody would want to be consumed in something they’re not good at anyway. Participation trophies encourage that idea. The extra-curricular world would be much better off by having an team dinner or banquet in honor of all the kids who came out and tried.


6 thoughts on “Participation “Rewards”?”

  1. HAHA I love this, Shayla! I am a big believer in everything in life should be earned. No matter the age, I believe the kids need to know the difference between winning and losing. I agree that kids will get more out of trophy when actually earn it for winning with time and effort. Not only will it help them in the long run, but they will begin to understand a sense of competitiveness in whatever sport they’re playing.


  2. I can see the aspects of this argument from both sides. On one hand, I agree with you when you say that kids are given participation trophies just for showing up, and it’s like a material pat on the back in a way. However, I would agree with Kevin, whom you cited in the blog, about the Steelers player not giving up his monetary earnings because of a loss. I do think that hard work and effort should be expected when giving a child a participation trophy though.


  3. You make plenty of valid points about participation trophies. I do not think that children should be rewarded merely for participation, particularly in the context of a tournament or other competition. That said, I do feel that young people should be encouraged and affirmed for lasting involvement and effort put into a sport. That affirmation can come from the team, and can be communicated in several different ways. As far as winning and losing goes, no one should get a trophy for losing.

    To quote the great modern American philosopher Sean Carter: “moral victories is for minor league coaches.”


  4. Great blog, Shayla! Participation trophies for kids growing up is teaching them the wrong things for life. Just like you said, life is unfair and harsh. You don’t always win. So you shouldn’t want to teach your kids that they should get a reward just for showing up. Showing them that being first in any aspect of life is the way to move up and achieve in life.


  5. This is a good argument from both sides but I have to go with not rewarding losing. It does not teach kids competition or drive to win. If winning is not everything, then why do we keep score? I believe this will help the kids in the long run and find the true meaning of competing in sports.


  6. This is awesome! You make extremely great points from both perspectives. However, I do not believe children or any individual should be rewarded simply for participation. I think for children’s esteem sake, they may be recognized but I do not feel as if they should be rewarded for losing. I agree that participation awards take away the value of the competition. I think it removes the value of the saying, ” hard work pays off”. Also, I have witnessed children become motivated by not receiving an award for merely just participating. Instead, it motivated them to work harder to receiving a trophy for their work. My students always tell me that they would much rather receive an award for accomplishment than attendance.


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