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Who Deserves a Trophy?

Once upon a time, the world of competitive sports was one of the only places where you would see someone win a trophy. In team competition, this was typically an all-or-nothing proposition — there was little recognition for third, or even second place competitors. Winning wasn’t everything, it was the only thing. In solo sports, however, the awarding of a second and third place was more commonly found. Today, as we seek to create a nurturing and encouraging environment for our children, trophies are the norm, even off the playing field. We reward our kids with trophies, not just for completing a certain task or for performing well on a test, but we give them trophies just for playing the game or showing up for an event. Are we really helping children by bestowing them with trophies for relatively trivial accomplishments?

Some people think that by removing competitiveness from children’s lives, we also remove their motivation to succeed. There are those who view this as a lowering of the bar for our kids. It is viewed as detrimental to the development of the child. Others feel that the opposite is true and that this practice is itself a form of encouragement that makes kids proud of their accomplishments and to try harder. They don’t view it as being about entitlement but rather, they see it as a way of recognizing the contributions of everyone regardless of who might be better than someone else at a particular task.

What do you think?  We recently did a survey to find out!

It turns out that that the majority of those surveyed felt that it was totally appropriate to give out participation trophies – awards for playing, but not necessarily winning. However, this was only true in cases of young children. In fact, the percentage of those in favor of participation trophies went down as the age of the children went up.  Of those surveyed, over 70% would give participation trophies to children eight years old or younger, while only 15% felt that they were appropriate for those between the ages of 13 and 16. This seems to suggest most people feel that arbitrarily giving trophies to everyone is not a good way to prime kids for the real world, but with young children there is no harm in encouraging them to participate by rewarding them for their efforts. Perhaps this won’t surprise anyone. What was a bit of a shock, however, was what we found out about who has a bigger soft spot, men or women. Surprisingly, it was the men who indicated they were in favor of participation trophies more than the women, irrespective of a child’s age. Lastly, only ten percent of men and women were in favor of giving trophies for just showing up! I think that’s important and dispels the notion that we are, as a whole, enabling our children to be uncompetitive or that kids will not demonstrate the drive to be successful at an early age just because we award them with participation trophies.

You might expect, as I did, that a large number of respondents would be in favor of giving out winner’s trophies. What’s interesting is, and what seems to correspond with the decline of participation trophies being connected to age, it turns out that for the younger age group, those children under eight, only 48% favored giving them winner’s trophies. So the message for this age group is that playing is more important than winning. As you move up the age groups though, rewarding winners appears to be more accepted, with 74% and 94% favoring handing out a first or second place trophy for the 12 and under and 16 and under categories, respectively.  As expected, over 95% support giving a trophy to an adult winner, which shows that we never really outgrow wanting to win a trophy.

I think the takeaway from these survey results is pretty clear. There is a big difference in the way we treat young children as they get older. Children and adolescents do not think the same and they don’t act the same. Therefore, they are not and should not be treated the same. Most people feel that young children need the sort of encouragement that the awarding of a participation trophy can give them. However, if this survey is any indication of a common sense feeling among the public, older children should be instilled with the idea that nothing is given to you in life and you must work hard to earn your rewards. Understanding this simple survey goes a long way in settling the debate of whether or not handing out trophies to kids somehow makes them entitled, or unmotivated. Most people feel that there is an age appropriate answer to this question.


SOURCE:  Neil Rader, Founder & President, TrophyCentral, Inc.

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