(Kevin C. Cox)

Kevin C. Cox

Level the Playing Fields: Participation Trophies in Children’s Sports

February 6, 2015

In the world of sports trophies and medals are awarded to athletes for accomplishing remarkable feats. From the Lombardi Trophy in professional football to the Stanley Cup in hockey, these awards symbolize not only remarkable athletic ability, but consistency, resilience, teamwork, perseverance, and the drive to improve in order to win. These awards are meant to be given to those who have done what it takes to earn them. However, today in little league sports a new system is being implemented. Teams that do not earn the championship trophy are giving participation trophies to their players in order to boost confidence and prevent the discouragement of these young players. However, does this method of reward hurt more than it helps? Also, can this negatively affect the development of these young players?

Life is going to knock us down. It is going to put us through the ringer more times than we want or are even prepared for; however, what matters is how fast we can pick ourselves up and learn from our mistakes or our misfortunes.”

— Tavis Burton

The motive behind giving child athletes participation trophies is to establish equality amongst players whether they win or lose. This system of reward is meant to keep these young athletes from getting discouraged and boost their self confidence. These trophies are usually given out at the pee wee or toddler level, which is believed to be a crucial point in a child’s development. This stage is believed to be where they not only learn right from wrong, but also the benefits and consequences of good and bad behavior. The participation trophy, no matter how loathed in society, does yield some good results. In a way the trophies are a way to reward a child for trying their best and giving their all to benefit the team as a whole. They are a great way to reward a child and help establish a sense of purpose on the team, and not being just another player. However, this method can negatively affect these children in the long run, both in sports and in the real word.

Participation trophies can give kids a sense of entitlement and can rob them of important life lessons. One of the most important lessons in life is failure, learning how to lose. When you lose it is a learning experience. It becomes a lesson of picking yourself back up and becoming stronger both mentally and emotionally. Life is going to knock us down. It is going to put us through the ringer more times than we want or are even prepared for; however, what matters is how fast we can pick ourselves up and learn from our mistakes or our misfortunes.This is not only one of the main themes in life, but also sports too. When a team loses they have to bounce back; they have to find a way to make these adjustments in order for these weaknesses not to be exploited by other teams. If they don’t make these adjustments the team will continue to lose, and it might get to a point where the players are so discouraged they don’t play as a unit. The biggest lesson of failure is learning how you failed, and trophies do this. A championship trophy becomes a player’s most sought after goal in the sport. When you have that trophy and you realize that both you and your teammates did everything in your power to achieve this goal, made the adjustments in practice, spent hours at home making improvements, studying the game and your position, and becoming a better player all around, it makes that metal statue even more rewarding, because you’ve accomplished something, because you earned it.

Participation trophies, however, teach the opposite. A trophy should not be handed out to a player as a consolation prize. When you realize that you didn’t achieve that goal, the reward that is sought after by every other player, you realize what you could’ve done. You realize that you have lost and that should be the motivation for you to try harder, to do more, to improve as a player and as a team. Instead, participation trophies can take away this motivation. It can give players a sense of comfort with losing, because at the end of the day you can say “At least I still got a trophy.” It is said that we are all created equal but the truth is we are not, and even if we are born equal we do not all develop equally. Someone is always going to be better, more qualified, or ahead of the pack. For example, if you apply for a job or for college you are not just automatically accepted just because you applied. An employer always looks for the best candidate who can perform well and adjust to the working environment. The same can be said for colleges and institutes of higher education. Universities look for students who apply themselves, show great work ethic, and would represent them in a positive way. They are not going to just admit anyone into their school. In life the playing fields, most of the time, are never going to be leveled, and it is important to teach this to kids not to discourage them, but to motivate them and boost their work ethic.

We can’t all be winners. We learn this in both sports and in life. Participation trophies do not teach this. We have to learn from failure, it’s how we get better. Life is going to give us a bad hand more than half the time, but we can’t fold, and we can’t quit. We have to be strong, we have to be mature, and we have to overcome these obstacles presented to us. Participation trophies are great for confidence but we have to think long term: do they really send the message we want our kids to receive? Will they teach the values kids need to learn in order to prosper?



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