Everyone is a winner

Participation medalsI didn’t see James Harrison’s Instagram post about his kids getting trophies “just for participating.” But I guess it ignited a bit of a fire about everything from parenting practices, youth sports issues and the problem of overparenting.

“Participation trophies” are trophies or medals given to children in a sport or activity. They didn’t win a game. They didn’t earn high marks in a music competition. These trophies are for the kids that showed up. I’m with Harrison on this one (except I would have let my kids keep the trophies).

Here’s an example from my life: This summer, my 11-year-old attended a soccer camp. On the last day, all the campers got a medal.


Wearing the proper attire for a soccer camp? Showing up on time? Remembering a jug of water? What were these medals for?

If they would have singled out a few kids for “most improved” or “best goal” or “penalty kick shootout winner” that would be fine.

No. These medals were given to everyone who was there. Because they showed up.

News Flash: The real world does not reward people for showing up. The real world rewards people who work hard, get something done or show improvement. Does everyone who shows up for an interview get the job? Does everyone shows up every day for work get promoted? Does everyone who attends class for four years during high school get the diploma?

My boys have a bunch of these medals, more than 40 between them (pictured above). And I think it’s giving our children unrealistic expectations.

Now hold on…before your freak out and call me heartless and mean, I think participation awards are fine for young children. Starting about age 10, we’ve got to start tough love. Medals for 1st and 2nd place…maybe 3rd place if you are feeling generous.

My 13-year-old has singled out one of his medals. It’s the one his soccer team earned by coming in first place in a tournament. I asked him if he knew what participation trophies are (he did) and what he thought of them. He said, “They are stupid.”

If we continue this “everyone’s a winner” attitude, we are going to raise adults who think that everything they do is awesome, and all they have to do is “show up.”

They won’t learn that you win some, you lose some.
They won’t learn how to work hard, even through difficulty.
They won’t know how to fail.

Is this an extension of helicopter parents? We all just want our children to grow up to be happy, kind, resilient and resourceful adults, with minimal heartache and drama. Coddling, overprotecting and shielding them from failure or sadness is not going to do that because our children won’t know how to handle the situation, pick themselves up from a disappointment and carry on.

I grew up in the 80s. The winners got medals. The kids who didn’t win got a trip to Baskin Robbins for a consolation ice cream cone, if they were lucky.

How did we end up thinking that our children will be emotionally scarred for life and unable to function as an adult if they aren’t awarded for Every. Single. Thing?

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