Just like every other mom on the planet, I want my kids to grow up strong. I want them to excel at everything that comes their way and I want them to become confident, well-adjusted adults. There is, however, a big difference between confident and arrogant, a big difference between strong and entitled. This is why I’m calling for death to the participation trophy.
When my oldest was four, we signed him up for t-ball. After some ridiculous “practices” where the kids ran amok, we finally started going to two games a week. When the children had their turn at bat, they were attentive and eager. When they had to be in the field, not so much. After getting trampled by his teammates one too many times, my guy decided it would be safer to build volcanoes in the dirt at shortstop instead of running to get the ball when it was hit. Made perfect sense to me, and I wasn’t about to ruin the game for him forever by forcing him to do any differently.
Only a few short weeks before the season came to a close, the coach reached out to all the parents alerting us of an end-of-season banquet at which time he would give out participation trophies that we needed to cough up the money for.
First of all, I’m not sure my four-year-old learned more during that season than the correct order in which to run around the bases — he certainly didn’t accomplish anything. And that’s ok, because he was four. He loved getting the chance to bat and downing the snacks the team mom passed out after the game. That’s all we were really expecting. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around giving him a trophy for this.
Second of all, what message is this little trophy really sending to my kid? I’m going to sound ancient by starting this next sentence with “back in my day”. But, back in my day, you worked hard at whatever you were doing because you wanted to be the best. The trophy you received was proof of all that effort. I’m sure there were some kids who had confidence issues because they weren’t always getting recognition, but that’s real life.
I need my kids to want to do well in sports, in school, in whatever because it’s something they want to do well at — not because there’s some kind of reward coming. I need them to work hard for their own personal growth and sense of accomplishment. A participation trophy is going to make my children feel like they are entitled to something special just for showing up every day, not for actually trying and not for actually working hard. Just because they were there. No other reason. That doesn’t build confidence, it builds entitlement.
They also need to know that it’s ok not to be the best, it’s ok to fail. Would I love if my kids were always top of the class and superior athletes? Yes, that would be awesome. What would be more useful to them and me, however, is learning that it’s ok to get B’s. It’s ok to do a sport because you love doing it. It’s ok not to win or to be the best at everything. It’s ok to feel disappointed sometimes.
Confidence isn’t built by people throwing things at you that you don’t deserve. It grows over time as children learn to feel strong about their own abilities — or lack thereof. A strong person doesn’t need to be “accomplished” with tons of trophies on their shelves. They need to have a strong sense of self that is both accurate and well deserved. We’re not going to give our kids this important gift by handing everything to them, which is why I’m calling for death to the participation trophy.
My kids will have to earn it. What about yours?