Millennials are commonly known as the “Participation trophy generation.” I myself remember receiving trophies for every sport and activity that I participated in, regardless of whether I won or lost, for as long as I can remember. These trophies have become controversial over the years as many argue that giving trophies to kids who did not win gives them a false sense of accomplishment and does not motivate them to be better. While many athletes such as the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison have voiced their strong opposition towards these trophies, scientists and psychology experts have conducted various experiments to test whether or not these trophies are having a negative impact on this generation.
An article from the Huffington Post highlights the views of psychology professor, Dr. Kenneth Barrish, who believes that participation trophies do not have a negative impact on a child’s psyche. Barrish supports his views by citing a study conducted by a Stanford psychology professor, Carol Dweck. Dweck and her colleagues conducted an experimental study which involved 400 fifth grade students being given an easy IQ test. After performing well on the tests, the students were either praised for being smart or working hard. The students were then asked to take another test and had the choice to take an easy test that they were bound to do well on, or a test that was more complicated, but would improve their learning.
67% of the students who were praised for their intelligence chose the easy test.
92% of students who were praised for their effort chose the more challenging one.
The students who were praised for being smart often chose the easy test because they wanted to preserve their “status” by acing another test. The students who were praised for their hard work were more determined to challenge themselves and improve.
These participation trophies are given to children as a reward for their effort and dedication to a sport/activity, regardless of how well they do. Rewarding a child’s involvement leads to an increase in participation among kids, which is very beneficial for them at a young age.
I’ll never forget one of the best coaches I ever had was Coach Ralph, who was in charge of the chess club that I was a member in during elementary school. Ralph would engage with all of the members individually to identify their mistakes and work his hardest to help the players who were truly trying their hardest to improve. At the end of the year, the members who came to all of the meets and focused received a medal, regardless of their skill level. The handful of students that placed in the final tournament also received trophies for their achievement. This is the model that I believe all of today’s youth sport coaches should follow.
Take Home Message
Participation trophies are not as bad as they are made out to be. Kids should be rewarded for trying their best and improving, even if they don’t make the top three. Rewarding a child’s motivation and hard work makes them more determined to improve, instead of giving up.