Participation Trophies are a Disservice


Emmaline Pan, Staff Writer

When a child loses at something, it can be hard for them on many levels, as well as for their parents to watch. This is why participation trophies were introduced; to create the idea that all children are winners, and while this isn’t necessarily a harmful narrative, it can set the child up for unrealistic expectations in the real world. 

First off, participation trophies deprive kids of one of the most important lessons they need in order to improve: losing. While this may seem like a harsh statement, it gives children the necessary gentle dose of reality that they need to embrace in order to succeed. At the end of the day, only one team will win the final club soccer championship. Only a select number of students will be accepted into Harvard. Just because you apply to something, doesn’t mean you’ll get it. Losing teaches kids that not everyone will succeed and get a prize simply for showing up. 

Losing can also be incredibly motivational, as it teaches kids that there are different levels of achievement and that if they want something, they need to put in the effort. In a study on Olympic champions, they found that previous loss was key to the athletes eventually winning the medal. After interviewing 12 Olympic athletes (eight men and four women), a conclusion was drawn that linked the “role of resilience in athlete’s lives and the attainment of optimal sport performance.” 

Participation trophies also can demean the achievements of the actual winners. When trophies and awards are handed out like party favors, they become merely souvenirs of an experience, instead of tokens of true achievement. Like so many of my peers, I grew up receiving certificate after certificate, medal after medal, trophy after trophy, for every event that I participated in, no matter how poorly or well I performed. I can now say, after years and years of these awards collecting dust on top of my dresser, that they are worth nothing more to me than the plastic they’re made up of, as I now recognize that they were not truly earned. 

While some claim that a steady flow of awards improves a child’s self-esteem, and that this increased self-confidence will lead to greater achievements, studies show that when parents glorify their children constantly, it can lead to the development of narcissistic traits. This can result in children thinking they don’t need to work hard in order to win. On the other hand, it has also been proven that adults who give children “person praise,” which can be shown in the form of participation awards, instead of “process praise,” which can be awards for an actual achievement, actually lower kid’s self-esteem following failure, doing the complete opposite of what it’s intended to do. 

It is also important to remind kids that winning does not define them. Winning and losing are transient states; they might win one day and lose the next day. Losing shows them that we all have strengths and weaknesses, and it should not be trophies that define their hard work, but rather, the improvement and learning experience that they have gained from it. 

Removing participation trophies isn’t an attempt at embarrassing children or making them feel inferior, but teaching them that winning takes hard work and determination. It’s important for kids to know that it’s okay not to win, and it’s okay to lose and make mistakes. It’s through failure that we learn, and our true focus should be on progress, not on results, or shiny plastic trophies.


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