Wondering why every kid should NOT get a trophy? It’s a dangerous trend, and here’s why we need to stop offering rewards for every single participant.
Participation trophies are a topic of hot debate in America today. Should we or should we not reward every single participant just for showing up? Here are my thoughts on why every kid should NOT get a trophy.
Why Participation Trophies are Popular
Some people feel that participation trophies offer encouragement or incentive for participants to show up and work hard. They also argue that we’re, at least partially, rewarding good genetics and athletic ability when we only offer trophies to the winners. But I’m going to argue that these are not good reasons to offer participating trophies. And that participation trophies are actually hurting our kids.
How Participation Trophies are Hurting Our Kids
Here are the 5 reasons I think participation trophies are a bad idea.
Devalues Success & Hard Work
When we give everyone a reward at the end of an activity, we’re saying success and hard work don’t matter. All you have to do is show up and you’re a winner. This is not a good message to send kids, and it’s definitely not how the real world works.
Aside from devaluing success and hard work, I think we’re actually breeding a sense of entitlement when we offer participation trophies. Kids who repeatedly receive participation trophies begin to feel like they deserve recognition just for showing up.
By rewarding all participants, we’re missing out on a great opportunity to build resilience in kids. We want our kids to be able to feel the negative emotions associated with losing (or failure) and know how to adapt, grow, and overcome challenges.
Promotes Extrinsic Motivation
We know from a plethora of research that intrinsic motivation is preferred in most cases. When we offer participation trophies, we’re emphasizing the extrinsic motivation of competition. If we don’t offer participation trophies, we can focus on intrinsic factors like “It must have felt so good to do your best!” or “You should be proud of yourself for improving from your last game!”
Robs the Winners
If we give everyone a trophy, we’re telling the winners that their success doesn’t matter. They’re “the same” as all the people they out-performed.
Better Ways to Handle Failure
Instead of participation trophies, we can do other things to motivate, incentivize, and celebrate everyone who participates. Here’s my favorite alternatives to participation trophies:
- Focus on intrinsic motivation instead of extrinsic motivation (“You must feel proud!” instead of “You got a trophy!”)
- Focus on effort instead of outcome (“You worked so hard!” Instead of “You got 1st place!”)
- Discuss (and celebrate) failures as opportunities for growth
- Talk about goals for the activity (Is the point to be the best? To learn how to be a great teammate? To have fun? Every kid will have their own goals!)
- Create a plan for improvement
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