Lots of reader pushback on Molly Knefel’s case for participatory awards:
Instead, that kid [who doesn’t get a trophy] is supposed to get the message: If you didn’t score a lot of points, no one gives a shit about you. And if that makes you sad, or if you feel that it’s not fair, get used to it. The world is a sad and unfair place. Score more goals next time. This message has always felt at odds, to me, with the equally ubiquitous platitude that children are the future. If children are the future, then why are we so gung ho about preparing them to be treated unfairly?
I don’t know, maybe because the world IS unfair and we’re realists and not delusional purveyors of utopian fantasy?
So kids who ARE good at something have to live with the satisfaction that scoring a goal is enough, but the kid who sucks (like me) NEEDS a trophy to keep him from feeling bad about himself more than the kid scoring the goal? NO. Why can’t we celebrate the exceptional? When a kid does something well we’re supposed reinforce it by telling him it’s just what’s expected so don’t get too excited because there’s no awards in life for being exceptional? But, um … there are. From the Oscars to the Olympics to the Nobel Peace Prize.
Another adds, “Knowing that life is not fair, and that your achievements are not handed to you, makes earning them sweeter.” Another key point:
Giving trophies to everyone is practically like giving away none, because with the ubiquity comes devaluation.
I’m a lifelong mediocre jock. Somehow my spirit has never been broken when I come in 14th out of 25 in a bicycle race, or my soccer team fails to make the playoffs. I do it because it is fun, and that is its own reward. I keep one 35-year-old trophy on display. It’s for being “most improved” on a wrestling team. It was one of two trophies given out that year, along with “most valuable” which went to a Columbia-bound stud. I earned that sucker because I worked my ass off that year – and was lucky. If the rest of the team got trophies as well, I guarantee you that they would all have ended up in landfills long ago.
Another asks Knefel:
Do you really think kids are unaware they’re being patronized? Do you think they’ll value a participation trophy, or feel a sense of accomplishment?
I was a mediocre baseball player as a kid. I got many participation trophies, which I promptly forgot. They’re probably in a box somewhere in my parents’ basement. I knew I wasn’t a great athlete and the trophies were just a pro forma thing, so I didn’t value them. On the other hand, I was always one of the top students in my class. I felt a genuine sense of accomplishment at high grades because I felt I had earned them, not simply been given them.
Participation trophies may be fine for three year olds, but as kids get older we should stop trying to GIVE them self esteem, or teach them that they’re entitled to their desired result, and not getting it means they’ve been treated “unfairly.”
Expecting a child who has made no notable contribution to a soccer team to be moved by the receipt of a trophy is to assume that in addition to being a poor soccer player, that he is also daft. I was a non-athlete as a child who was nonetheless forced onto the occasional youth sports team. Getting a trophy would have been an absurdity. What I do remember fondly was 15 minutes that a substitute coach once spent with me trying to improve my skills at connecting bat and ball. And with some success. But then, trophies are easier than actually spending time with kids improving skills, aren’t they?
Another shares an excellent idea:
Having coached youth baseball and basketball for several years now while being staunchly opposed to participation trophies, I’ve adopted a solution my coaching mentor came up with. I create personalized mementoes for every player by taking a baseball (or miniature basketball) and writing the year, team name, player name and number and a personalized message about the season. I often get assistant coaches to write something as well. It doesn’t take long, but it is an appropriate way of acknowledging participation and more importantly, team membership. Giving a trophy for participation is like using a crescent wrench as a hammer. It does a sub-par job and devalues the tool for its intended purpose.
A lone dissenter so far:
I was glad to see Molly Knefel defend giving trophies to an entire team. Major pet peeve for me when people trot this out as one more thing that is wrong with kids (parents) today, mostly from people who don’t have kids. These days children are fast tracked into a sport as early as age 5. Little Tommy is on travel baseball, and little Sally is spending 8 hours practicing gymnastics. And then there are the kids who are still “just rec”, as in they are on the recreational team, as in they are not good enough for a competitive team, or their parents can’t get them to all the the practices (often held while working parents are, well, working). These kids KNOW they aren’t as good, or as lucky, and they don’t need a trophy withheld to beat it further into their heads that they are less than.
So give the kids a break. A participant trophy for an 8 year old does not destroy the fabric of society. It just makes a kid feel special for a moment, for finishing what he or she started, for being a member of a team, or for doing their best despite challenges. Let’s spend more time criticizing the parents who must boastfully remind others that their kid IS on a competitive team while they look down their nose at other children or are simply participating in a recreational team.
One such parent cries:
Look, I’m probably the most Liberal of all your readers, but as the father of an insanely talented 12-year-old daughter, I cannot abide this Everyone Wins mentality. And not because I’m against the theory of “Hey, you showed up and kicked that ball and your leg didn’t fall off, have a trophy!”, but because I hate to see the dilution of true talent in the face of egalitarian praise.
Case in point: My daughter is a genuinely talented singer (said no other proud parent, ever) who was excited to compete in her school’s talent show. Having just come off a local theater run of “Annie” in the lead role, she was sort of feeling badass and wanted another chance to shine before an audience. But this was less a talent show in the traditional sense and more a Display of Talent For Its Own Sake, where EVERYONE WAS A WINNER and even the truly crap acts (sometimes especially the crap acts!) got raucous cheers of support from their peers. So when my TRULY talented and extra-special daughter (said no other proud parent, ever) sang her song and killed it, the applause level was exactly what it had been for the kid whose mother had dressed him in a homemade snowman suit and sent him out to sing “In Summer” from Frozen, an act that would, in my day, have gotten me beaten half to death by bullies outraged by my daring to offend their ears with such a tragic display.
So I asked my daughter, afterwards, if her peers had been coached ahead of time to whistle and hoot and clap and shout and rave for every act, and she confirmed my suspicion: The music teacher had indeed required that everyone be treated as American Idols and wildly applauded, regardless of how badly they stank the place up. “How do you feel about that?” I asked my TRULY talented daughter. She shrugged, trying to be diplomatic about it, but said, “What was the point?”
Indeed. There is excellence (like my Truly Talented Daughter), and there is mediocrity, and if we as parents continue blending the two in a blinding array of ecstatic applause, the gifted among us may just all wonder what the point of shining is.
But seriously, my daughter kicks ass.