I didn’t notice it at first. When I did, it stopped me dead in my tracks.
My oldest son earned a first-place design trophy at his first box car derby.
The second year, he was given a participation trophy even when he didn’t make the pole. Why?
That example illustrates Atlanta radio DJ Bert Weiss’ beef with participation trophies: “Everyone gets a trophy, just for showing up.”
Point taken. What happened to hard work?
Last I checked, the real world still operates that way. If I showed up to work and benched myself this season, I wouldn’t be allowed back in the building.
Then why on earth are we teaching kids they deserve recognition just for showing up? How does it teach them to strive for excellence?
No child should get a trophy for sitting on the bench. They need to be motivated to get on the field and earn it.
Let them feel the pain
Weiss, host of “The Bert Show,” believes parents today have made things too easy for kids by handing out participation trophies.
Have today’s parents strayed too opposite of their “hard-ass, tough” parents? Weiss thinks so.
“I call it Wussification of America,” he said.
“We parents are coddling our kids so much they don’t feel pain,” which prevents them from developing healthy coping skills.
It’s not just participating trophies. Weiss used other examples:
- No-homework policies.
- Teachers removing red ink to grade papers.
- Pass/fail grades instead of letter grades.
- No scores kept during children’s sporting events.
- Schools removing the honor roll system.
‘Be honest with kids, they can handle it’
One day, Weiss’ own son came home with a participation trophy. The 10-year-old said, almost apologetically, “Well… we all got the trophy… sorry.”
Weiss said we should “go back a bit to old-school ways:”
- Talk to kids after every game, about event performance, ways to improve and sportsmanship.
- Discuss with kids that a trophy doesn’t necessarily mean they are good; it means they participated.
- Initiate conversations about endurance and persevering to the end.
- Be honest with children about their level of effort and successes.
“Be honest with kids, they can handle it, we think they can’t, but they can,” Weiss said, “even a C effort lets the entire team down.”
Kids must learn to ‘lose gracefully’
Vivian Diller, an expert on emotional development, believes participation trophies devalue resilience. This, in turn, can lead to a lack of motivation and endurance when dealing with real-life challenges.
“If we offered the gold, silver and bronze for actual achievements, kids would learn lessons that better served their needs as adults,” Diller said.
“Parents need to allow children to lose because it teaches them to congratulate those who win; to lose gracefully.”
Although participation trophies have a place, they are often used incorrectly, said Jonathan Fader, sports and performance development expert.
“As an unexpected surprise for someone’s unwavering dedication and effort, absolutely! As a meaningless gesture for just showing up, maybe not.”
Fader said world-class athletes don’t take pride in a trophy alone or from hearing “they’re the best.” Their pride develops from a sense of accomplishment after countless hours of dedication and training — sacrifices that paid off.