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Participation Trophies

Participation Trophies

Participation Trophies

You might be surprised to learn our view on participation trophies. Unlike some of our competitors, we don’t believe “everyone is a winner!” We do, however, believe that, for many reasons, recognition is important even in youth sports.

That said, there are a couple of distinct schools of thought regarding participation trophies, and how they purportedly have “ruined” a generation of young people . . .  Millennials, to be precise.

The first is the PC model, in which our children are too “fragile” to get their feelings hurt; everyone’s a winner; all get a trophy; nobody gets promoted in real life; and we all live in harmony, patting each other on the back. Everyone is equal in this world, and butterflies land on my shoulder every day, just to say “hi.”

The other side of the argument is that nobody should get a trophy until they actually deserve one for being a winner. 

The following tweet came from James Harrison in 2015, regarding his two boys bringing home trophies for being good student athletes:

“While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best…cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy.”

For those of you who don’t know who James Harrison is, here is a short description of his primary accomplishments:

  • Five-time Pro Bowler
  • Three-time Super Bowl champion with the Pittsburg Steelers 2006, 2009 and the New England Patriots 2017

There is no question James Harrison is a champion, works hard, and has won great recognition, including three elite titles.

While Harrison is correct, he should make sure his boys know he is very proud of them. Is it possible telling them their best is not good enough sends a message that only perfection is acceptable? And, is he asking his boys to be perfect in a world where perfection, if it does exist, is fleeting?

I have to give Mr. Harrison some kudos, because, unlike many professional athletes, he cares about winning above the big paycheck -- and he proved that by accepting less pay to help the Patriots win a Super Bowl in 2017.

A few thoughts on participation trophies. . .

First, I believe participation trophies are aligned with my belief that “recognition begins at home.”

Custom Awards by

I need to be clear: Newline Trophyand Engravinghas not been built on the sale of participation trophies, but, rather, on the creation of fine custom awards and trophies for corporate recognition. However, we do believe there is a happy medium between the two schools of thought. I assure you, children and adults know the difference between championship trophies and those given for participation.

There are many leagues whose foundational beliefs are centered around every child receiving a trophy at season’s end. As a parent, you should decide what is best for your family, and then make a choice.

This verbiage on participation trophies was taken from the AYSOwebsite:

An AYSO trophy is something many kids hold on to and cherish for the rest of their lives, as tokens of a wonderful time spent playing soccer. On the other hand, many parents feel that participation trophies send the wrong message to their kids and give them a false sense of achievement. Regardless of your view on the role of trophies, understand that just because every child gets a trophy, it doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a meaning and a message attached.

AYSOfollows up with some suggestions on how the participation trophy can be presented as an achievement trophy:

Image of Coach and Players

We believe there is value when a coach takes a few minutes at the end of a season to lift a child up, pat him on the back and tell the story of how they improved, while presenting a certificate, pintrophy or medallion. And we don’t believe that recognition in front of his peers will ruin, make him soft or misguided in this world. Trust (me), there are plenty of other worldly issues more pressing than a participation trophy to distract your child.

So, I ask couple of difficult questions, which I believe are choices we need to make as parents:

  • Is there room when our children are recognized at the end of a season to allow them to accept a trophy as an achievement, because the league we signed our kids up in chooses to present a certificate, pin or trophy?
  • Could we be sending a negative message to our children by giving the trophy back and telling them they are not worthy until they earn a “real” trophy?

Clearly a tough subject that requires some thought. One where as parents we need to make decisions that are best for our families. Trophy or not, youth sports offer a significant opportunity for us as parents to connect with our kids and communities.

Parents, I urge you to participate in your children’s lives; put your cellphones down; go to practices; if possible, help the coach; cheer your child on; meet other families; develop a community around your family that cares for your child (and you, theirs), and use the time driving to practice and games to get to know your children and their friends. Because it is not the “participation trophy” that motivates your children; it’s the fact that they know they are valued and loved.

Remember, the trophy may not have longterm importance, but the relationship lasts a lifetime!

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