A Positive Perspective on Participation Trophies

Participation Trophies do not lead to entitlementI have read far too many articles and heard far too many people complain that “participation trophies are a contributing factor to this generation feeling entitled.” Or something of that nature. For some reason, people actually believe that a piece of plastic is a developmental obstacle for children.

Plastic. Plastic that represents participation. Showing up. Working hard. Sweat. Practice. Participation. A developmental obstacle?

No! A developmental obstacle is not having a parent who is willing to read to you. A developmental obstacle is having a parent who believes that their 6 year old Little Dribbler Program is what is going to pave their child’s way to the NBA. A developmental obstacle is not eating healthy. Not getting enough sleep. Not being shown love. There are REAL developmental obstacles to worry about that do not involve a piece of plastic.

Participation is NOT the cause of kids growing up to feel entitled. Bad parenting is the problem. Parents and coaches actually need to emphasize participating MORE. They need to teach the value of showing up and being reliable. They need to teach the importance of kids working their hardest no matter the outcome. They need to teach kids the significance of overcoming obstacles, even if the kids come in last place.

Just starting and finishing a season is a win for some kids- for the shy boy who is nervous, the little girl who might be a little chubby, the kid who doesn’t have any friends, or might have a mental or physical disability, our kids, your kids. Some kids are never rewarded at home for their efforts. Allowing those kids the opportunity to play on the team is a WIN to me. That child giving it their all and putting effort into the game is a WIN to me. Regardless of the scoreboard.

We apparently think our kids are dumb if we think they don’t know a difference in participating and winning. They KNOW. They see the scoreboard. They ask the question “did we win?” And they understand when they hear the word “no.” They are not idiots. They WANT to WIN.

Give your kids some credit. They know the difference in a gold medal and a green participation ribbon. They’re not oblivious.

Parents are making their kids into their own trophies. It isn’t the kids who put 100% of the focus on winning. It is the parents who do that. 6 year old kids are still looking for fun things to do after school. 8 year old kids are still learning what commitment means. Kids are wanting a game. And to learn to love that game. Parents are wanting a win.

I coached a 4 year old soccer team this year. Do you think playing was solely about winning or losing for those little 4 year olds?

No! It was about PARTICIPATING.

Because quite frankly having any short attention spanned, hyper, excited, clueless 4 year old boy even finish the season is a WIN to me. Teaching them to be tough when they fall down or keep playing the game when they’re tired is a WIN to me.

“Oh but if we just give out trophies for participating to our 5 year olds without them earning it, then when they are 25 they will feel entitled to whatever they want and expect to win just by showing up.” Yeah. Whatever.

Here’s a thought. How about instead of putting all the emphasis on the win, let’s teach kids HOW to be winners. Instead of putting emphasis on not losing, let’s teach kids HOW to handle the losses. To win humbly and lose gracefully. Instead of putting no emphasis on participating, let’s teach our kids that participation is what is most important.

Participation is the meat. It is the “behind the scenes.” It is the sweat and grit. Winning is just the finished product. Losing is also a finished product. Participation is the foundation to winning.

Guys, adults get participation trophies. Go to any marathon, and you will see tens of thousands of ADULTS with a participation medal and shirt and goodie bag.

Rock N Roll Half

That Christmas bonus you got at work? Oh, that is for PARTICIPATING, for showing up every day, for hard work, for being accountable, for taking part in that job. Even if you didn’t win a “Best of the West” award that your city hands out, you as an employee will still get a reward for participating.

High school kids- they have to participate in order to get their graduation diploma. Regardless of if they win the title of Valedictorian or not.

Yes, in life there are “winners” and there are “losers.” But there are also people who just “participate.” Not every job is a competitive job. Success does not always mean win.

Sure, there are some jobs that are competitive. But, there are plenty of real life jobs that aren’t competitive. Some are just jobs. Or jobs in which you are your own competition. It is just you and the finish line. There are no winners and no losers, just finishers and quitters, just participants and no-shows. There are real jobs where just showing up, working hard, and finishing is every bit as important as “winning.”

The hard work of a 5 year old deserves to be rewarded. A 7 year old finishing what they start deserves acknowledgement. Work ethic is being replaced by this thought of “winning makes me better than you.”

Now is that piece of plastic, or that green participants ribbon necessary? No. Is it harmless? Absolutely. It is ok for participation to be rewarded at a young age? Yes. Actually, it is important. Instead of de-valuing the meaning of participation, let’s emphasize to our kids the significance of being part of a team, of developing friendships, of hard work, of showing up, of relying on others and being reliable themselves. Let’s teach them the significance of participating. Trophy or not.


**This post is mostly in regards to youth sports. Youth sports is where kids should learn the importance of participating, where showing up should be emphasized, where they learn how to work hard. Youth sports should be about developing their love for the game.

Once kids get to school athletics (7th grade here), winning should become the priority. At this point kids aren’t just representing their parents or their mom/dad coach. They are now representing their school, their teachers, their district, their city, region, and state. At this point, their coaches aren’t just a parent. Their coach’s job depends somewhat on winning.

** Personally, I don’t think that entitlement comes from the “participation trophy- show up and get rewarded” theory. I think it is caused by people thinking that somehow,  because of who they are, they deserve special treatment. But that is a completely different post topic. 🙂


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One thought on “A Positive Perspective on Participation Trophies

  1. Melinda Morgan says:

    I had to share this Ashley and hope you won’t be mad that I did. This was a great story just like your others from the past!!

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