Participation Trophies: Reward Children For Hard Work

The trophy industry has reported that within the past forty years their sales have increased by five-hundred precent. The industry’s annual profits average around two billion dollars has recently allowed them to compete with the weight-loss industry. One of the reasons for the sudden peak in this particular industry is the additional sales of participation trophies (a trophy given to everyone who participates in a particular sporting event where they did not qualify for first, second or third place). Over the past few years there has been strong debate discussing if the benefits of these trophies outweigh their disadvantages.

Whether they are pro-participation trophy or a skeptical of the role they play through a child’s life, both sides of the debate each have one thing in common: they stem of their concern. No matter the stance on the subject the majority of each opinion is made up of concerned parents and those who invest time into children’s lives where they each just want to set up the best foundation available for society’s youth.

Although it is uncertain when participation trophies became an established part of the sport society, has found that historians agree that it was most likely around the end of the twentieth century. Specifically it was when California implemented a self-esteem initiative helping to boost confidence in inner city children. It was believed amongst the community that just by repeatedly showing the youth that they were great, that they would eventually come to believe this themselves and therefore accomplish great things.

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It was also around this time that different cinema productions were released showcasing the plots of an underdog character overcoming all of the odds and then becoming successful (for instance Karate Kid). This, then gave children the idea that they were very likely to be able to easily achieve anything. The trophy industry also played a role in the rapid distribution of trophies as they could only benefit from this rise in distribution of participation trophies.

The school of thought on one side of the debate is that through participation trophies society is rewarding children athletes for simply showing up. Self-esteem, an explicitly important part of life for any developing child, grows from experiences in one’s life that they can be proud of. Critics of the participation trophy believe that when rewarding everyone the pride that is supposed to accompany any trophy diminishes. However advocates of participation trophies would argue that the point of the trophy itself isn’t to award “just showing up” but to rather reward that effort that went into their commitment. Most children spend months putting time into attending games and practices in accordance with putting effort into developing their sport. Therefore many believe that these athletes earned their participation trophy because they stuck with the sport and dedicated a lot hard work and effort into the season. (

As found on, Carol Dweck conducted an experiment comparing the experiences when praising a child for intelligence to praising one for their effort. After four hundred fifth-grade students completed an I.Q. test, some received recognition for their hard work while others were celebrated due to their intelligence. When asked about partaking in a second test Dweck’s results showed that the majority of those admired for their intellect choose a less challenging option compared to their effort praised peers. Her experiment shows the positives to rewarding effort in that those children are more likely to be willing to risk their pride and produce mistakes when given an opportunity to develop their knowledge/skills.

Those skeptical of the participation trophy carry the thought that by awarding everyone the value of a first place victory is taken away. That because of these trophies, children will stop striving to become first when no matter the outcome a trophy will be awarded to them. However it is important to consider that athletes do not work constantly to receive a piece of plastic but rather the title and pride that comes along with it. Participation trophies, are trusted by their supporters, to give the youth a starting point and offer the incentive to continue to work in order to achieve a trophy of higher value. Kobe Bryant agreed that these types of lower level trophies act as a place holder by saying, “Well listen, get the fourth place trophy, go home. You take the fourth place trophy, you put it up right where you can see it, and when you wake up in the morning, you look at the trophy and you remind yourself of what you’ll never win again.” to his children after they received trophies for fourth place. This shows that Bryant clearly views participation trophies as a foundation that is meant to be built upon. (

The main goal of participation trophies is recognize the work of the athlete but his recognition is accompanied by many following positives including confidence. Children with a higher level of confidence have a higher chance of standing up for themselves, as well as taking risks in their everyday lives. When children are encouraged to participate and rewarded for doing so they are then more likely to participate in other areas of their life, including the classroom. Participation trophies give students the confidence to speak up and increases their grades because through their participation the kids are more engaged in the classroom discussion. Those who do not voice their opinion tend to be left out of following social interactions and opportunities, and are also viewed as shy, daydreamers, or even less intelligent. As phrases it “Participation trophies for expressing yourself and a growth mindset should be encouraged and celebrated.”

Participation trophies do offer an aspect of pride and accomplishment upon the youth in today’s society however this sense of recognition for working hard can be achieved through other means. Children are persistently being encouraged every day by parents, teachers, and many other sources to the point where trophies specifically there to encourage are of little benefit. They also are taught the importance of hard work through household chores, doing things for themselves, as well as through choices, and by example. Also studies have shown that children wont even need the excessive amount of praise because once you are completely developed in a certain skill you will not need the reinforcement of praise because you will recognize your accomplishment yourself. (

A common argument made against participation trophies is that when trying to bring about boosts of confidence they instead create increasing rates of narcissism within the youth. Narcissism is an inflated view of the self, coupled with relative indifference to others. It is true that the rates in college students today have increased in narcissism and the rates of empathy have decreased both by seventy percent.

The study to the above shows that from 1994 to 2009 there was a significant increase of NPI scores (Narcissistic Personality Inventory) of college students attending South Alabama. However, reasons for the shifting change of the numbers of narcissism have not yet been able to be determined. Some researchers blame the rise of narcissism on less frequent social interactions allowing children to become more individualized. Psychology Today acknowledges other causes for the rise of narcissistic values but also states, “ They may to some degree have grown up believing what they were told. To the degree that they did, they would become narcissists, because the things they were told are exactly the kinds of things that narcissists believe about themselves.” in reference to receiving participation trophies as well as parental praise.

The constant praise and validation from their parents and society result in narcissistic kids as found in a longitudinal study published by the National Academy of the Sciences. All of these studies and view points clearly acknowledge that as children become overly glorified through the generations that their view of themselves may very well surpass confidence and become cocky. It is commonly argued that participation trophies set children entirely up for a depressing reality in the “real world”. However many companies actually mimic the idea of participation trophies through employee recognition programs as well as other city and state wide programs. Pennsylvania for example, has a program where anyone one who participates in recycling can sign up to receive rewards such as movie tickets and magazine subscriptions. There are countless programs like this one in adulthood that simply reward effort, which is exactly the purpose of the participation trophy,

Skeptics of these trophies acknowledge that receiving praise for participation does not correctly prepare the recipient for their adult life, because in the “real world” participation trophies do not exist. The term “entry level syndrome” is used to describe current millennials in the work place. Entry level syndrome is “The large, gaping gap in expectations of new employees and employers.” as defined by Lee Caraher (author of the book Millennials and Management, The Essential Guide to Making it Work at Work). Caraher describes this as the generation who is continuously creating a shift in the workforce; where managers used to be able to review staff performances annually, millennials crave instant feedback. The feedback that they want is reassuring all the while the feedback that they actually receive is more along the lines of constructive criticism. The theory that when having grown up in an environment filled with instant gratification and constant praise it all directly translates into the work life of the participation trophy generation. This is further explained by Lee Caraher when she says “The world is flat to Millennials, who are used to having access to virtually any information they want, when they want it,” and when she states that, “As Millennials move into the workforce, they expect the transparency they perceive in their lives to be equally present in the office.” (

Participation trophies also teach different morals in the competitive world of sports. For example if society was never to reward children with participation trophies first place would then become the only thing that mattered. It is important to teach young athletes early on that there is more to the game then winning.Young players should prioritize their focus on working hard, learning the importance of exercise as well as understanding teamwork and sportsmanship

On the other hand critics trophies of participation will argue that instead of teaching morals they are taking some away. Some believe that by handing out trophies to all the participants that the message that comes across is that losing is not okay. Through these trophies generations of children mature into adults who were never taught how to both embrace and handle failure. Adults need to experience failure as a child in order to understand that is a natural as well as expected part of everyone’s life. The failures created from past experiences each allow us to look back upon them and then use them in order to grow. When someone has a prominent fear of making a mistake they are never going to push themselves into doing challenging, yet developing things.. Studies show that for both kids that need higher self-esteem as well as those that do not, participation trophies do not help them.

Overpraising children who already have a low opinion of themselves gives them a sense of fear that they will never be able to achieve or become your expectations causing them to shut down even more, and those who are already overly confident can develop an even higher opinion of oneself leading to narcissism. After completing research on the effects caused by participation trophies Ashley Merryman came to the conclusion that, ”When children make mistakes, our job should not be to spin those losses into decorated victories. Instead, our job is to help kids overcome setbacks, to help them see that progress over time is more important than a particular win or loss, and to help them graciously congratulate the child who succeeded when they failed. To do that, we need to refuse all the meaningless plastic and tin destined for landfills. We have to stop letting the Trophy-Industrial Complex run our children’s lives.” In this statement it is clear that Merryman disagrees with participation trophies because the take away the idea of a loss and the lessons that follow. ( Athletes strive to get better and develop their skills while working towards a goal (first place).

In many cases it is said that participation trophies take away from the aspect of competitiveness. By taking the emphasis away from both winning and losing it seems as if there is no need to work towards winning but to only participate. The idea of the loss of competitiveness in sports translates into the controversy when it comes to running up the score. Many coaches are criticized when their team holds a sufficient lead but yet continues to score in order to spare the opposing teams feelings. However that is exactly what the sport is supposed to be, a competition between two teams in order to see which of the two is superior to the other and by how much.

It is important to understand that when playing teams do not have the intention to embarrass the other team but to work hard and showcase their talent. Participation trophies can lead to the idea that no matter what they do is good enough. One coach of a California girls’ basketball team was suspended after his team won by one hundred and fifty-nine points, even though in the second half of the game the coach played his reserves and coached his players to use the entire length of the shot clock. In the article on the subject The Vanderbilt Torch affirmingly states that, “Were we to respect competition from a younger age, people would realize that winning and losing- and potentially doing both by large margins-are just parts of the game.”

Within the recent years many high schools have walked away from the tradition of valedictorian. They believe that through ranking the students it creates unnecessary pressures that only add to the extraordinary amount of stress that is already present in the average high-schoolers life. One high school in Tennessee has recognized every student meeting a certain requisite as valedictorian. However that is not the purpose of valedictorian, but rather to congratulate and acknowledge the accomplishment of that certain individual. Many different colleges offer scholarship opportunities to students who graduate in the top ten percent of their class but often without ranking students are no longer eligible for them. Critics of this system have compared the termination of valedictorian to handing out “’participation trophies’ to avoid hurt feelings”.

Many people also agree upon that they money, time, and effort that goes int the purchasing, and the distribution of participation can be better used. From practice time, to field space, new uniforms, to new equipment the resources used on the extra amount of trophies can be more effectively spent on developing the skills of these young athletes.

After reviewing the pros and cons attributed to participation trophies one league in Maryland has decided not to hand them out. Andy Paladino, the program’s commissioner commented on the subject by saying, “It’s just going back to the thought that you only get a trophy if you win, I’m not going to change the world. My thoughts were to go back to the past.” The league has deemed it fit to award the younger devisions (four to six year olds) with certificates in order to reward them for beginning to develop their skills at a level where completion rarely plays a factor in the winner.

As the research shows participation trophies offer children a sense of belonging, approval and acknowledgment. However there is nothing that a trophy can offer society’s youth that is not already evident in the everyday life of a child. Participation trophies, although they do reward children for hard work, do not however establish a hard work ethic within children. As these trophies became an implemented part of our society, the idea of rewarding the top performer in many aspects of life has been taken away. This hence dismisses all of the incentive of working towards first place, because the outcome is the same either way. They may only be beneficial in age devisions where there is no difference in talent and the young athletes are only learning about the skill (four to six). The children in this age group will then be able to understand dedication, commitment and also confidence. After these levels trophies should only be awarded to the top performers in order for the other athletes to understand the importance of loss, hard work, and sportsmanship. 

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Participation Trophies: Reward Children For Hard Work. (2022, Jul 16). Retrieved from

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