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The Problem with Trophies

Mackenzie Hornibrook

The culture of easy rewards has even become apart of high-profile jokes. In the movie Meet the Fockers, Gaylord Fockers parents have a wall dedicated to their sons participation awards. For example, ribbons rewarding 9th place. (Photo Courtesy of: Movieclips.com)

How is a trophy even special any more if everyone receives the same one? Lisa
Lagrou recently raised this question in her article Should every child get a Trophy? She discussed how her 9-year-old daughters soccer team lost all but one game during their season, but after their final loss, the girls were handed the exact same trophies and celebrated the same way as the team that had actually won. Lagrou found this strange and even felt bad for the winning team. However, this situation has become the new norm. Participation trophies have changed the way children are defining success and achievement. There has been a clear shift in the way adults reward children. In the past kids would

be rewarded only after achieving something, but now society has developed the everyones a
winner mentality. The most obvious example of this mentality is displayed in youth spo rts, where like Lisa Lagrous daughter, most children are given the exact same award. The children raised by this mentality are known as the Millennial generation. According to Wall Street Journal contributor Ron Aslop, the Millennials were born between 1981 and 2001 and are known for being coddled and raised to have a sense of entitlement. Weve seen participation trophies throughout this generation, but theyve really come in to full effect in the last few years.

The problem with participation trophies and the everyones a winner

mentality is that their effects extend far beyond youth sports. This
unnecessary and undeserved praise influences children to believe they should be rewarded without accomplishing anything: a misconception that can follow them the rest of their lives. Its pretty obvious that participation trophies exist in our society, but how did this reward-based culture begin? Interestingly, the development of youth sports coincided with the so-called self-esteem movement. The 1920s and 1930s saw the growth of professional sports teams (Cox). Soon, adults

began developing organized leagues for children so they could play sports too.
For example, Pop Warner football was founded in 1930 and Little League Baseball was founded in 1939 (Cox). These leagues, among others, grew in size over the years and began to develop in other states as well. The 1950s-1960s saw a large development in organized sports for adolescents (Cox). However, during this same time, thoughts on the importance of selfesteem began to develop. In 1969, Nathaniel Brandon wrote the book The Psychology of Self-Esteem. Brandon said that feelings of self-esteem were key

to a successful life (Baskin). Thus, the self-esteem movement was initiated

and overtime it began to influence the way people rewarded their children. By the time the Millennials came around, many parents were mainly concerned with the self-esteem and happiness of their children. Because of these attitudes, participation trophies have become a cornerstone of youth sports since

the early 1990s; however, there has been an

explosion of this principle in the past few years. Ive even seen this in my own life. My brother, who is just five years younger than I am, has substantially more trophies and awards than I do, even though we played the same number of sports. Today, youth sports leagues are giving awards more frequently but not necessarily for greater achievements. In fact, it is now estimated that the trophy-making industry earns $3 billion dollars per year. These once rare and special rewards have become mass-produced pieces of plastic that are so

common, they have lost their meaning.


The shift toward participation trophies needs to be ended to salvage the important connection between working hard and being rewarded. However, taking away these trophies is not meant to exclude some children or to make them feel un-athletic. These kids shouldnt be upset just because they are not the best in sports. Everyone is talented in different areas, so we deserve to be rewarded only for things we work hard and excel at. Some parents fear that their children will feel poorly about themselves and become discouraged, but kids arent fooled by the petty awards they are often given. In fact, in the article, The Gift of Failure, Steve Baskin shares the story of one boy who divided his trophies into two different piles. The small pile contained awards from tournaments and meets that [he] won, just for showing up. Baskin notes that the young boy was ready to throw away all his participation awards because he was clearly not fooled by the efforts to boost self-esteem (Baskin). Some children may like their participation trophies; however, we need to teach them that only winners are rewarded in the real world. By eliminating participation awards, were not trying to intentionally hurt anyones feelings, but instead reflect the real world. In the article Trophy Overload, Nancy Ann Jeffery argues: If you are going to get an award [regardless of winning or losing], the best. Is that really the attitude that we want children to grow up with? Throughout life, if a child is rewarded time after time for inadequate effort, wont that carry in to all other facets of life? As Ashley Merryman says in the NY Times, Awards can be powerful inspire children to succeed. Instead it can cause them to underachieve. This seems pretty shocking, but its true. We need to teach children that its okay to lose. Its impossible to go through life without facing challenges or failing, so we shouldnt shelter children by giving them participation awards. And when kids arent rewarded, their possible feelings of sadness or frustration should only serve to motivate them to work that much harder the next time. If we constantly reward children without achieving anything, they begin to expect praise after everything they do, which has given rise to the behavior of Me.

If you are going to get an award anyway, the message is that you dont really have to try your best.
~Nancy A. Jeffery

whereas the other contained ones that [he] got motivators, but nonstop recognition does not

message is that you dont really have to try your what Jean Twenge has called Generation

Interested in learning more about Generation Me? Visit the website at http://www.generationme.org for information about the author, the research behind the book, and more! (Image from generationme.org) In her book Generation Me, Twenge notes that high self-esteem is encouraged from childhood. She says that parents, schools, and the media are all focused on making children feel good about themselves, which leads to a lot of empty praise. However, its important to recognize that self-esteem is not something conferred, it is earned through taking risks and developing skills.

(Baskin). So, all the participation trophies are really for nothing. We cannot just
give kids an over-abundance of awards and expect them to feel confident and proud of themselves. It just doesnt work like that. Instead, we need to push children to learn new skills, work at them, and experience growth. Psychologist Steve Baskin notes that protecting our children is doing them a disservice because we insulate them from adversity and tell them that theyre not capable of handling it on their own. The most alarming part of this shift is its possible implications. In the

article The Trophy Kids Go to Work, Ron Alsop discusses the recent trend of
Millennials struggling to assimilate into the workplace. Aslop states that this mainly stems from the fact that Millennial have been lavishly praised when they excelled and even when they didnt, in order to avoid damaging their self esteems. So, their attitudes reflect more of what are you going to give me? than what can I do for you? Its worrisome to think that just the beginning of the Millennial generation is entering the workplace and there are already issues. What will happen when todays group of young kids grow up and enter the work place?

How will there be a successful working environment if everyone feels entitled to

rewards, even when they dont work the hardest or go above and beyond the others? The answer is unclear, but the outlook is not good. The shift towards participation trophies and the everyones a winner mentality have changed the way children are rewarded in sports. This shift is negatively impacting childrens confidence and perception of hard work and achievement. It may seem like an insignificant issue, but there is the possibility that these rewards will hurt their productiveness and success in the workplace.

However, there are some signs that this shift could be beginning to reverse.

Just last week, a youth football league in Texas announced that only the league winners would

be rewarded with trophies. The Keller Youth Association released a statement saying: Life
does not give you a participation job or medal, life makes you earn everything you get. The shift back to deserved awards is in its very beginning, but it has the potential to reverse the damage caused by participation trophies. I hope that eventually we will be able to reverse this shift and teach kids how to strive for awards, instead of just expecting them.

Works Cited

Aslop, Ron. The Trophy Kids Go to Work. The Wall Street Journal. 21 Oct 2008.
Web. 27 Oct 2013. Baskin, Steve. The Gift of Failure. Psychology Today. 31 Dec 2011. Web. 27 Oct 2013. Bennet, James. The Trophy Generation. The Atlantic. 7 June 2011. Web. 27 Oct 2013.

Cox, Rachel S. "Sportsmanship." CQ Researcher 23 Mar. 2001: 225-48. Web. 27 Oct.

2013. Faure, Rana. Trophies. Photograph. iVillage. 28 Feb. 2013. Web. 4 Nov 2013. Foster, Matthew. Texas Football Program Says No More Trophies for Just Showing Up. ABC News. 23 Oct 2013. Web. 27 Oct 2013. Jeffery, Nancy A. Weekend Journal; Trophy Overload. Wall Street Journal. 11

Mar 2005. ProQuest. Web. 27 Oct 2013.

Merryman, Ashley. Losing is Good for You. NY Times. 24 Sept 2013. Web. 27 Oct 2013. Lagrou, Lisa. Should Every Child Get a Trophy? Click on Detroit. 23 Jan 2012. Web. 27 Oct 2013. Trophies. Photograph. McKinney Little League. Web. 4 Nov 2013.