The Weekly Bite - Performance And Protection Spotlights

Pros And Cons: A Look At Participation Trophies For Youth Athletes

Travis Armideo - Thursday, October 15, 2015

“ParticipationRecently, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker and scary human-being James Harrison made waves when he took away his sons’ participation trophies. The general public was slightly appalled at the act, but as Harrison said, he was proud of everything his sons did and accomplished, but they didn’t EARN the trophies, and so they were being returned.

Participation trophies are nothing new, as young athletes have been receiving the trophies since the late-70s, a practice started by youth soccer leagues. But they certainly seem more commonplace today, particularly throughout youth sports. 

Meanwhile, the debate on whether participation trophies are helpful or detrimental never goes away, and thanks to Harrison, it has once again become a hot topic. And everyone from professional athletes to parents has an opinion on the matter.

Are participation trophies a nice reward or a sign of entitlement? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons:

Pro: A Boost Of Confidence

Not everyone is a winner. It’s simply a fact, as typically 95% of all participants fail to capture a championship in any given sport or season. That’s because only one team or player can win.

However, only praising and rewarding the victor could have damaging affects to those who don’t win, particularly those younger athletes. Giving everyone involved some level of recognition goes a long way toward boosting confidence and promoting future success. It tells the athlete that they may not have won, but they gave it their all, and always giving your best is important.

After all, this year’s loser could be next year’s winner.

Con: We Play To Win The Game

Trying certainly matters, but when it comes down to it, the point of playing sports -- much like any other game -- is to win. So why reward anything less?

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Understanding the difference between winning and losing is a wildly important life lesson. It teaches us how to deal with and overcome adversity, and that you don’t always get what you want. It also teaches us how to bounce back and recover from loss, while also providing athletes or performers with drive and purpose to be better.

Few lessons are more important than that.

Pro: Something To Play For

Losing is tough, but losing your interest is easy … especially when the losses start piling up.

For young athletes, it is very easy to lose interest in a sport if they’re not winning, which is why many leagues don’t even keep score at the youngest levels -- but that’s another blog for another day. No one, particularly young kids, wants to feel bad every time they step on the field, court or ice. At the very least, a trophy to display in their bedroom is a nice light at the end of the tunnel for anyone that has to endure a tough season.

Besides, just because you aren’t the best doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to compete at all.

Con: Rewarding Proper Effort

There is no participation award for life. No one is going to simply hand you the life you want, you need to work hard to get the rewards you desire.

That is what James Harrison was trying to say when he took away his sons’ participation trophies. You’re not going to be rewarded for doing your job, and in fact, if you simply show up and don’t perform, you won’t have a job for long. But if you’re the best at what you do and work harder than your competitors, rewards will come.

And that goes for everyone -- whether your job is being a football player, dentist or student.

Should participation be rewarded or are we teaching our young athletes bad life lessons? There are pros and cons to everything, but what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

Reward Yourself

Anonymous commented on 05-Jan-2016 03:17 PM
Children don't need the participation awards. It makes them entitled spoiled brats, who think just doing something, even if they don't try hard enough or work for it or even do it correctly, they should get a prize, making them feel more special then they truly are.
Anonymous commented on 23-Feb-2016 02:50 PM
Children need participation awards
Anonymous commented on 29-Feb-2016 04:48 PM
Aaron commented on 18-Mar-2016 01:28 PM
Children deserve participation awards, I feel this way because they should know that if you lose, well at least you tried, this can also be used it efforts in the future.
sir chciken commented on 05-Apr-2016 09:17 PM
no not worth the $$$$$$$$$$$$ you either win or lose and that is life
Student commented on 20-Apr-2016 02:05 PM
Kids get the wrong idea. It's not good for them! They need to reward proper effort, not just the kids who goofed around. Many of you say, well at least they tried, but what if they didn't?
Anonymous commented on 03-May-2016 09:46 PM
Children need encouragement in the beginning of their life. If only the main "superstars" of the team get medals the children may start ti think, if i never get a medal why should i try? Participation awards boost their confidence as well as giving them something to work for. They're smarter than you think, they know who the best player are, they if they win or lose. These awards show them that even if you aren't the best you still are something.
Person commented on 15-Jul-2016 07:23 PM
Kids should not get rewards for just, being there it makes them soft and they may think they may get a reward for everything.....even at age 18
Anonymous commented on 30-Sep-2016 10:29 PM
The most harmful words anyone can hear is "good job" when they clearly did not do a good job. Participation trophies encourage that everyone is winner. If everyone is a winner, is anyone really a winner? Participation trophies tells children that you get rewarded for doing things that they did their best on. However, people need to understand that sometimes your best is not good enough and that is what should motivate people into doing better and working harder to be an actually winner.
Zed commented on 24-Oct-2016 02:31 PM
I don't understand the validity of these Pro opinions. "Besides, just because you aren’t the best doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to compete at all." This has nothing to do with winning a participation award.
Gladiator Custom Mouthguards commented on 25-Oct-2016 10:26 AM
Thank you for reading Zed and your comment. To explain, the point here for the Pro side was that it is easy for a youth to lose interest and providing participation trophies allows athletes to feel good and will help to keep interest. Winning/being the best shouldn't have to be the only motivation to play a sport.
Anonymous commented on 31-Oct-2016 10:57 AM
what's the point of participation trophies? The coach is just giving the team false self-confidence that will come back to bite the children in the back when they are older and smarter. They will eventually find out that they suck and are just going to play the system and only give what they need to get the reward and not give it their all. Participation Trophies are just a gimmick for the children making them think that they are all so good when the fact enters their minds: you suck-- you need to lose for once.
tg bh commented on 02-Nov-2016 11:34 AM
children derserve trophies
Anonymous commented on 06-Nov-2016 11:01 PM
I agree you do need to lose sometimes to learn, but don't you think children are smart enough to understand that they lost. Don't you think they know the difference between a participation trophy and a real one? If a child tried their best all season why not give them a participation award, what's the worst thing that can happen? That in the future they realize everyone has got to win or lose? They are children, let them have self-confidence and encouragement before they realize how horrible the real world actually is. "They will eventually find out that they suck and are just going to play the system and only give what they need to get the reward and not give it their all." This is more than just getting a trophy, that child obviously doesn't enjoy the game as much anymore. Encourage the child that they are good and to keep going, instead of telling them their awful and they suck. What's much more valuable than a plastic disposable trophy is the experience and what you learn through it.
Anonymous commented on 14-Nov-2016 06:19 AM
Ugh!! Some people make me want to vomit. The very first comment I see on this article says something about participation trophies turning children into entiteled and spoiled brats. I hate to break it to you, but a piece of plastic does not cause that. The self-richeous, entitled, ignorant parents of said child cause that. Participation trophies exist to teach children that it's not about winning it's about having fun and doing THEIR best. THEIR best... not that they have to be THE best. They also teach children not to be sore losers. They are also in place to boost confidence in themselves and their abilities to work together as a team to achieve a goal. I'd hate to see what some of these parents will mold their children into. Arrogance runs deep in this generation. Let's all hope that apple jumps off the tree and runs far away.
Anonymous commented on 01-Dec-2016 11:11 AM
Look guys there are pros and cons. If kids are "brats" then don't give them a reward. Every child needs support and eventually when older, they don't want any trophies, but will most likely keep the old trophies as a symbol of working hard.
DJ commented on 01-Dec-2016 11:56 AM
I don't think its a clear-cut decision either way. People seem to be content with choosing black or white, participation medals or no participation medals. I think we need to stop and THINK once in a while. I believe that participation medals can provide benefits, and it can influence negative mind sets for youth too. I think that it's all a question of age. Participation medals do provide benefits for young kids. It keeps them interested in sport, and participation in sport provides benefits in it's own. They don't even keep score at the youth programs around here. Participation medals can boost interest, a desire to participate, and increase self-worth. But lets be honest, participation medals don't reward effort. Every kid gets one, and not every kid puts in effort. I think the question of age is the real debate. At some point kids need to learn the realities of the world. Learning that everyone is different and some have to work harder than others to achieve success (awards). We are a unique species. Think of every other species of animals on the earth. At some point a fish or a cub is gonna need to learn the harsh realities of the world, or how else can they survive. Just keep these things in consideration. Every dog stops their pup from sucking on the nip at some point, we need to try and keep this balance with our kids as well. Quit milking too early can have consequences and milking for too long can have consequences. This shouldn't be a topic where one side is right and one side is wrong, both sides are right. But at what age.
Anonymous commented on 15-Dec-2016 01:21 PM
It teaches kids the wrong thing and for the people that did try, there is really no point to the award they are getting
Anonymous commented on 19-Dec-2016 10:29 AM
I think kids do not deserve trophies unless they think, what did I do to EARN this.
Anonymous commented on 23-Jan-2017 12:05 PM
Participation trophies are stupid, a waste of time, and money. Not to mention if kids think they won they will want EVERYTHING to be given to them. Then you have a spoiled kid living in your basement until they are 40.
Anymouse commented on 30-Jan-2017 12:25 PM
Kids don't deserve participation awards if they truly are not doing anything. But in order for them to succeed in life, they need encouragement. So I don't really care what you do with your children, only that you take care of them and do what you think is right to give them a far better future.
Anonymous commented on 30-Jan-2017 12:54 PM
i think that parents can be to hard on their kids at times and these pieces of plastic can make then feel good about them self. Kids can get trophies but at an age they dont need then and they know that its not doing anything. kids know who won and who didnt and they arnt stupid. kids can try if they want to try and if they dont they wont try. give the kids a slack this topic about trophies are is just stupid and in away everyone is correct. so you can go now and get your self a participation trophie bacause you are in this now and have read this. Just under stand not everyone is complete idiots.
Unknown Person commented on 30-Jan-2017 05:09 PM
I am siding with DJ and Zed. Kids Sometimes deserve a reward for example when they they win a game and they get a $50 gift that makes them want to work for something they have a motivation. Because if they don't have something to work for they will just mess around or not play sports and get big lazy kids. Kids probably will play harder if you give them something to work for if you say if you do this you will get this. So you have to should give them something to work for.
Declan commented on 01-Feb-2017 11:42 AM
No awards, or awards. Its hard to choose
Jason commented on 02-Feb-2017 09:51 PM
First of all, no one wants to put the work into being parents anymore. They are all too busy on their phones or computers. It's the parents job to teach their child or children the ways of the world. The parents need to be there to work with and motivate them when they partake in sports or anything else they invest their time in. Whether they win or lose the parent has to be there to let them know that they did their best, the parent should be interested in what their kids does, they should be there to lift up their spirits in case of a loss. It's not the job of society to give them an award and to tell the kids they did their best. It's the parents job to do that. The children need to know that they have to work hard to get anything in life. You say kids aren't stupid you're right, they're not so don't treat them that way and tell them how it is in the world. My Dad told me when I was 5 years old : "that no one will ever give you anything in life, you have to work for what you want". So get off your phones, tablets and computers, talk to your children not as if they were infants but as equals.

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Author Bio

Travis Armideo

Travis Armideo, marketing manager at Gladiator Custom Mouthguards, is a lifelong ice hockey player. He began playing for various clubs at a young age and continued onto junior teams, while also playing lacrosse at the collegiate level. Travis is still heavily involved in athletics, coaching high school and youth ice hockey athletes, as well as playing men’s league ice hockey on a regular basis.

Travis Armideo

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