Trophies for all convey an inaccurate and potentially dangerous life message to children: We are all winners. This message is repeated at the end of each sports season and class year in almost all junior clubs and schools year after year since the last decade.
I am wholeheartedly against participation trophies because it sends the wrong message to all involved and breeds a dangerous sense of entitlement where young adults are now expecting too much and giving too little.
Parents concerned about self-esteem are not letting their children do difficult things or experience difficult emotions, and as a result, we are developing adults who expect a lot from life but may not be willing to give much.
When kids are praised for everything and “everyone’s a winner,” it reduces their desire to put in their best effort and reduces their ability to regulate negative emotions.
They begin to expect awards and praise for just showing up — to class, practice, after-school jobs — leaving them woefully unprepared for reality. Outside the protected bubble of childhood, not everyone is a winner.
Instead we should be trying to instill in children a resilience and grit that allows them to trust that they can indeed handle negative emotion and use it to confront the inevitable challenges of life with confidence.
Showing up to work, attending class, completing homework and trying their best at sports should be an expectation, not a celebration worthy of an award. These are the foundations of a long path to potential success, a success that is not guaranteed no matter how much effort put in.
We must allow kids to understand that being uncomfortable is a part of life and that they can indeed learn from those experiences of loss and use them as an opportunity to grow. We don’t win every time, but we can learn every time.
And what about the message this sends to the real winners, the kids who applied themselves, the kids who put in work, time and effort only to have the same level of recognition as the kids who just showed up.
As an adult can you imagine putting in copious amounts of over time to hit a deadline and get a project over the line, sacrificing meals with your family, putting your family to sleep etc only to get the same bonus or recognition as someone who didn’t do any overtime or make any sacrifice?
The world doesn’t work this way.
And while we need to protect kids, they also need to be see that we all have different talents, we cant all be good at everything and hard work pays off.
So the next time your child gets a participation trophy, just think of the message they are taking. Did they genuinely earn that and if not, what does that say for them as they grow into the real world.