The Participation Trophy Debate

Posted on: March 13th, 2020 | by Laura Murdoch | No Comments

Young female footballer winning a football trophy

There’s something of a debate in the world of youth sports and one that rages particularly strongly in the US. This debate revolves around the handing out of participation trophies. There are plenty of people who believe the practice of rewarding has led to a generation of entitled and needy young people who can’t handle failure. However, there is an equally strong counter-argument that suggests giving out participation trophies is beneficial to youngsters. So, what does each side say and should we worry about it?


The Argument Against

The people who speak out against participation trophies believe that they set children on a dangerous path. Handing out a trophy for every player is seen as being overprotective and mollycoddling. It will put children on the path to entitlement and apathy.

Instead of participation trophies, sports psychologist Dan Gould suggested that it was best to find alternative ways to motivate children. “For rewards to work, they need to be earned. If you’re trying to increase a kid’s motivation, emphasize health or emphasize how fun it is to move or play ball.” Instead of trying to bribe children with rewards, it is better to keep their focus on internal rewards instead.

A popular argument against participation trophies is that they may cause players to stop trying. The theory is that they will expect to be rewarded regardless of the effort they put in. If a child knows that they will get a reward even if they don’t try, they might as well not try. This also presents worries for the players that do work hard every week. Critics of participation trophies believe that they will see their efforts being undervalued. They won’t see it as being fair if everyone around them gets an award without trying as hard.


The Argument For

On the other hand, there are plenty of people who believe that rewarding everybody’s efforts is a good thing. As we discussed in last week’s blog post, winning can help set children up for future wins. Child psychologists believe that there is evidence that reveals the huge benefits of positive reinforcement, especially in young children. Rewarding them for their efforts will show them the value of contributing to the team and turning up to practice. Players will get a sense of accomplishment and feel more connected to the sport. This will give them the motivation to carry on playing football. Handing out a trophy to everyone promotes the sense of teamwork by showing that everybody plays a part in the team’s successes or losses.

Psychology professor, Kenneth Barish has suggested that only giving trophies to the winners “doesn’t emphasize enough of the other values that are important.” Children need to remember that sport isn’t just about being the best but it’s about learning new skills, leading an active lifestyle, and being part of a team. Participation trophies are something that children can cherish and help them feel as though they are part of a team.

A study carried out by Cornell University suggests that only rewarding children for the outcome of their actions can be damaging for their future. Rather than only handing out awards for the people who come out on top, children should be given recognition for how they got there. During the study, children were given a test and then praised for either being smart or working hard. Later, both groups were given the choice between an easy test or a more difficult one that offered a learning opportunity. 67% of the children praised for being smart chose the easier test. This was against 92% of the children praised for working hard. This shows that the majority of children who were only praised for succeeding went for the easier option so they could experience the same success. Those praised for working hard decided to push themselves.

The argument for participation trophies would be that praising everybody for the effort they put in will push children to put in more effort next season. Rather than only highlighting the players who have seen the most success, all children should be shown that putting in the effort is something to be praised. This shows them that there is more to life than just winning.


Young girl winning a holding trophy and medal


It’s all about balance

Ultimately, when it comes to rewarding young children, there should be a middle ground. Children who are overpraised will potentially run into problems in their future but kids who are told that life is only about winning or losing will also have issues. Those who grow up to believe that all of their efforts will be recognised and praised will potentially be disappointed as they grow up. Those that believe they need to win may just take the easy option. That’s why it’s important to find the right balance.

The effectiveness of participation trophies comes down to the person handing them out. It all depends on what they stand for. If they are presented as evidence of skills, development, and hard work then they will help children progress in the game. It would be easy for youngsters to feel disheartened and want to give up on the sport if they feel that they aren’t being recognised at all. If they see other children winning loads of awards, they might believe that there is no way that they will catch up with them and quit.

Also, there is the question of how entitled a child would become just because of a few sporting awards. Yes, children need to understand that they won’t always succeed in life but there will be plenty of chances to prove this to children. A few participation awards won’t completely alter a child’s view of the world but could help in confirming their love of the sport. Football is a competitive sport anyway, so they will experience success and failure in matches. Surely, having a solid base for teamwork and self-confidence will make these future defeats easier to take?

Of course, there is an argument for not taking it too far. There will be a certain age where participation trophies will stop being as effective. As children get older, they will potentially start to see these awards as unnecessary because they’ve reached a different stage of their development. Children certainly need to understand that they can’t always come out on top, so handing out awards for little or no effort is not useful. But, as most children won’t go on to be professional players, the focus on the game should always be fun and enjoyment. Whether you use participation trophies or not, you need to instil a love of the game in your players. A strong basis in terms of teamwork, hard work, and development will also give them a good start for their future.


Pendle Trophies

If you’re looking for ways to reward your players then Pendle Sportswear has a great range of trophies, cups, and medals to chose between. With player trophies to award those individuals who have done standout work and medals to present to the entire team for their hard work, you’ll find more than enough options for you. All of them are offered at fantastic prices so you can be sure that giving every player something to take home won’t ruin your budget. Check out our range of football trophies now.


Pendle Sportswear New Football Trophies


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