Are Participation Trophies Bad?

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.participation-trophy

The Experiment

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.

My Experience

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.hard-work-beats-talent

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8 thoughts on “Are Participation Trophies Bad?

  1. Katherine Yuen

    I’m actually doing my final project in my CAS137 class about this! From research that I’ve done, I’ve found that it really depends on the type of praise kids are given and the ways in which they are then encouraged to continue on in their sport or activity that they get the participation trophy for. It’s really a change in the way that the generation works, and just because this may not have been great for our parents or grandparents in the end, it could be good for millennials. I found this video which shows a little bit of participation trophies in kids sports leagues. It goes through people’s personal opinions and talks about the study that you referenced as well! It’s interesting to see it specifically through the eyes of sports coaches who are giving these trophies.

  2. Dylan Huberman

    I love this post as well because I too am pretty competitive; I played tennis, baseball, basketball, football and soccer all at the same time until high school when schedules conflicted to frequently. When I was younger, I never felt upset when I received a participation trophy, although that didn’t happen too often because I usually told my parents to get rid of them. I used them as motivation to perform better, not a reason to stop trying. I found out my parents kept all of my five participation trophies in a box in my own closet a few years ago and chuckled a bit. Being able to find self-motivation from failure is what is meant to drive us in life, and those who find that self-motivation are successful. I think it is great that you agree with this as you said in your post; “participation trophies are not as bad as they are made out to be.”

  3. Emma G Schadler

    Your post caught my attention because, like you mentioned, I have heard several times about our so-called “Participation Trophy Generation” and the arguments over whether participation trophies should be given out. Although I find the experiment you listed interesting, as it shows that people that are told they can accomplish things tend to take the chance to better themselves, I’m a bit confused over how comparing those children to children who were told they were smart helps the argument that participation trophies are worthwhile. Is this saying that praise that is more specific can actually be detrimental?

    I also remember always being given participation trophies or ribbons as a kid. I don’t remember them ever making me feel special, though, perhaps a little happy with myself, but seeing the winning team with their larger trophies always made me feel jealous. I suppose I’m trying to say that I feel being given participation prizes doesn’t negate the actual outcome of the game.

    Interestingly enough, the New York Times recently posted an opinion article written by a high school junior, with the title claiming that participation trophies are “dangerous.” I don’t believe the article makes much of an impact, but the fact it was published on the NYT’s website is significant.

  4. Zachary Morris

    I played a lot of different sports growing up and agree with a lot of what you’re saying here. However I think at a certain age you can stop giving out participation trophies. It’s certainly one thing to give kids in elementary school, possibly playing sports for their first times, participation trophies. Winning and losing is simply not important at this age and you want to create an environment in which all the children both have fun and feel comfortable playing sports. Whether it’s chess or football, sports are very important to kids and help teach them about team building, trust, and often friendship. So like I said I certainly agree that they are a good thing- but only to a certain age. For example, a couple years ago I remember going to my at the time 14 year old sister’s last softball game. Her team lost in the first round of the playoffs and were awarded the good old participation trophies shortly after the game. When we got back in the car, the first thing my dad said was “Well, at least you got the trophy” hoping to break the tension. My sister, who isn’t particularly confrontational, responded by saying “We lost in the first round. I don’t want this stupid trophy” and then proceeded to throw it out of our moving car. While not everyone has that type of reaction, it was so obvious to me in that moment that she was far too old to be given that kind of trophy. It was almost a sign of disrespect to her. She was older and cared a lot about her team and teammates, and this kind of trophy was something she had been getting her whole life as a “Don’t worry, everyone’s a winner!” kind of gesture. Long story short, I think participation trophies are a great thing- for kids beginning sports. By the time you care and it’s competitive, which I would mark at the end of middle school/ beginning of high school, I think the trophies begin to do more bad than good.

    1. Salvatore Mattioli Post author

      That’s a very good point Zach- I agree with you that they should only be given up to a certain age. I believe they are useful to young children as rewarding their hard work and dedication can (at least the case in this experiment) motivate them to try harder and push themselves until they do win. Participation trophies also increase sport involvement in youth which is great for so many reasons (i.e. fitness, teaching teamwork, leadership, sportsmanship etc..). I agree that it should stop at around the beginning of high school as they should already know by then that hard work leads to success. I also played sports throughout high school and I don’t remember receiving a trophy unless we won.

  5. Jacob Alexander Loffredo

    First of I want to start off my saying I love this blog topic. Obviously we have never met before but all people who know me know that I am the most competitive person around, it is just how I was brought up; I love to win. In this article you present the question “are participation trophies bad?” I would accept the null hypothesis in this situation because I don’t believe in participation trophies, like you here many people say “its literally a trophy for sucking”. I believe all kids should want to win and at an early age be able to compete. I realize that young athletes or any competitor should enjoy it and have a lot of fun but to me fun is winning and society needs to be stronger and better and the only way to get there is for everyone to all want to be the best at what they do. Here is a cool article about how participation trophies are making today’s kids soft, check it out its interesting.

  6. Akhil Dharmavaram

    I somewhat agree with what you are saying here. When I was growing up ,I never really received participation trophies for anything, it was always for coming in first, second, or third place. While I can see how participation trophies can make children feel better and as if their efforts were still appreciated, I think it is also important for children to understand that they cannot win or succeed in everything they try. Children should consider this as a lesson to perhaps work harder in the future. This article summarizes my point quite well, especially by saying “…participation should be recognized, but celebrated with words and a pat on the back rather than a trophy.” It might be worth a read. The study you referred to in your post was interesting to me since I had never heard of any study like that.

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