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Survey: Should youth athletes be given participation trophies?

November 19, 2015 / Athletic AdministrationCoaching
In October, Coach and Athletic Director asked readers whether participation trophies should be awarded to youth athletes, an act that some feel has created a culture of entitlement among kids. Here are the results of the survey along with some of the responses.

PartTrophies_Chart• This practice needs to be terminated as soon as possible. It has totally created a culture where everyone believes they are entitled to confirmation of approval without earning it. There is great value teaching youth athletes to compete to win and not expect something to be given to them just for participating. Athletes have become so sensitive that they are offended if you compliment another athlete for performing well. They feel they should get the same compliment without having to perform well.

At the lower levels, maybe until they are 10-12 I think it is OK because they are really only participating anyway by learning the game. After that, it is important to know the difference between winning and losing and what it takes to be superior at their sport. I think it is important for coaches to clearly explain why someone received a trophy and how other athletes can work hard to rise to the same level or surpass it.

I do think that participation should be acknowledged in some way, maybe a certificate or something of the like. Trophies are generally associated with a greater accomplishment than just participating so that’s why a trophy for all should not be awarded.

If you have to look at a participation trophy to be reminded you played; that’s just sad. It also pushes the extrinsic reward problem further along the continuum. Play to play and EARN the rewards, be they playing time, success, or trophies. I never received a participation trophy, and any of the ribbons that were handed out pre-make everyone happy with a gift were thrown in the bottom. When I did see them again I shook my head wondering why they wasted money and time giving them out. It felt dirty and like nothing to be proud about.

I believe it depends on how the trophy is presented. If you present a participation trophy in such a way so an athlete can tangibly relate the trophy to an accomplishment, I’m okay with it. For example, “Johnny improved on his throwing so much, he was able to throw from 3rd base all the way to first.” Reward growth.

I feel as a country we’ve been awarding mediocrity too much, and it starts by giving participation awards. It gives a sense of entitlement in a way and it creates a complacent atmosphere surrounding our youth.

We have boxes of trophies in the basement from children and grandchildren participating. We need to acknowledge participation and still reward those who have excelled with a different level of appreciation, not just bigger trophies. Why do children under 7 or 8 need trophies? Participating should be the reward itself.

I absolutely do not believe that participation trophies should be awarded. While recognition and reward are good for the self-esteem and development of children, I also believe more strongly that such rewards create a sense of entitlement that lasts well into the high school years. Such trophies often over-inflate the player’s self-estimate of their skills and abilities, which leads to later frustration on the part of the players and parents when those rewards aren’t forthcoming later in life. I’ve heard way too many athletes and parents say, “Why isn’t she playing? She’s a great player who has earned awards all her life.” If anything, I think the verbal acknowledgement by the coach of the youth players carries a great deal more weight than a piece of plastic.

This really does not encourage anyone to continue to participate. Life is about winning and losing. Life is about working hard to get what you want. We are not teaching this concept to kids by giving them all participation trophies. Someday they will have jobs, hopefully. If they want to get ahead, they are going to have to work hard.

Acknowledgement of participation can be achieved without the use of extrinsic awards. Being taught to be a part of something bigger than one’s self is a lesson that was lost years ago. There should be no expectation of receiving a trophy just for participation. Its okay not to be the best at something and its also okay to fail. This should drive the participant to work harder to achieve their goals.

I’ve been coaching for 31 years. During that time, there has been a drastic shift in our culture that used to reward achievement. Now, it seems that many parents “expect” their children to receive a trophy because he or she has a pulse. I applaud parents who still believe in the merit of having their children earn something.

This is my opinion is becoming a real problem. The trophy for participation is making the team. You should be honored to be selected to play with a group of individuals that are going to unite for a single goal over short time. This is getting lost for some reason in todays society. 


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