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Participation Awards: Good or Bad?

When you were a kid, winning an award was considered a big deal. Maybe you took home a trophy after winning a grueling soccer game. Maybe you won a medal for winning first place in a little league tournament. Or maybe you even received a certificate for perfect attendance one year. All of these accomplishments warrant the awards that a child might receive. Nowadays, however, things are much different.

There are so many sports, activities, and school related events where children are encouraged to come out and participate, play, and, of course, take home awards.But now, instead of awarding one or two children for their excellent work, participation awards seem to be all the rage. Participation awards are running rampant in schools, sports, and extracurricular activities. Coaches and teachers are handing out awards to every child, not for winning, but simply just for participating.

So what’s the best way to award your kid? Some parents believe that an award should be earned, with hard work and dedication. Giving a child an award without that hard work might lead to a false sense of what the real world is like. What if a high school junior doesn’t study for his SATs? Will he still get a good score? Will he get into a good college? The answer is likely no.

Then there is the opposite view, where parents believe that when you’re a kid, life should be a little bit simpler. In elementary school, you are learning the foundations that will guide you through life, and that comes with many obstacles to begin with. Why shouldn’t activities outside of that be fun, entertaining, and educational? If an entire ballet class receives trophies after participating in a recital, what’s the harm? Working hard, regardless of winning or losing, should be celebrated.

Those are the two sides to the debate. Where do you stand and what do you think? Should your child take home a trophy just for participating or should he or she have to win to get something in return?

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  • Annrhea

    How about no trophies at all?! What’s wrong with just participating for the sake of the activity! Everything doesn’t have to be a competition nor have a reward attached to it. A recital is just that–a chance to demonstrate a newly learned skill. Are we keeping score all the time and, if so, why?

    • cutemonster

      It doesn’t take much incentive at all to get children to participate in fun activities.  What can complicate matters is the idea of play as a competition.  That being said, if a game is designated a competition, it’s important for children to learn the concept of winning and losing.  Arguably those who lose will potentially benefit more in the long term.  Parents/coaches earn their stripes by the lessons imparted to kids needing inspiration to learn and move forward from a loss.  

  • MSH

    As a parent I see both sides.  I always say just play the game, participate in the activity for fun, go to school to learn, develop strategy, etc.  Life is filled with wins and losses.  Both must be accepted by kids and adults.

  • Jetts31

    I see both sides too. At younger ages, I don’t see anything wrong with a 6 year old getting a participation award. That being said, at some point kids need to understand a trophy is saved for the winners.  There is nothing wrong with losing so long as we, as parents, teach our kids what they need to take from losing (working harder, practicing, going back at it again, etc.) and there is nothing wrong with not getting a trophy.

    • cutemonster

      Agreed.  There’s inherent value to losing and learning from it. 

  • Such a great discussion.  I like the idea of “participation awards” that place a value on a child’s willingness to devote time and effort.  I also think that special awards have their place, and give kids something to strive for.  I don’t see the two as mutually exclusive at all

    • cutemonster

      Kids are perceptive.  If the majority of children receive a participation award, yet only a few kids receive special awards, they will hone in on the fact and question the difference.  On the upside, it could open the door to explaining the concept of winning and losing.  

      • Hey there, I just happened to be checking emails when I got your response.  I don’t really have any problem with kids knowing that there are different levels of recognition to be earned.  I think that’s the way the world works, and I don’t think we should try to protect our kids from the whole concept of winning and losing in competitions…that is the essence of some activities : )  Trophies, certificates, prizes, raises at work, new titles, corner office…they are all just different levels of recognition in my book. I just think that offering recognition for participation doesn’t have to exclude offering more advanced recognition like a first place, second place, etc. or an overall “best” whatever.  I don’t think kids are as fragile as we often think, nor do I think that having opportunities to exercise our disappointmet muscles is a bad thing.  By the way, I love your site…just happened upon it today…great work.    

        • cutemonster

          Glad you happened upon the site.  Thanks for kicking the tires. 🙂

  • I like the discussion here. I my experience, the advantages of rewarding effort (participation) are good. A simple token for everyone is a great way for all of us to respect the competition or activity as a whole. There is also merit in recognizing winners (and 2nd, 3rd, etc…) if the measurement is clear. The challenge is our attitude—the victor needs to learn how to revel in a sense of accomplishment
    without diminishing the skill of the opponent, while those who don’t win deserve our respect for an honest
    effort and the motivation and challenge to try again. However, where I think we cross the line is when we award subjective winners, such as rating artistic events. There is a nuance to ‘judging’ that is lost on children.

    • cutemonster

      Good pont Stephen.  Unlike an athletic event in which the winner can be declared fairly easily, an artistic event does not provide such obvious clarity.  Add into the mix that art is judged by the eye of the beholder and you have a recipe for confused young children.  In this scenario, I’d actually opt for participation awards.  

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    • cutemonster

      How so? It’s clear from the header graphic that the article is sponsored content so there should have been no surprise about a product pitch at the end. Yet, the subject matter, participation awards, was discussed in a balanced way. How would you have presented the subject differently? What are your thoughts about participation awards?

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  • Celtic Kawaii

    I think it’s stupid. Even as a kid, I actually thought just getting a ribbon for showing up was dumb, since not only was everyone else getting one, but because I didn’t win anything. What we should teach kids is that you don’t always win, and that’s okay. Life’s not all one big competition, and in a competition, not everyone gets a trophy. But you can still get the reward of having fun, and isn’t that what counts?

  • JonB

    I am opposed to “Participation Awards”. This may encourage children to participate in sports, it really just ignores the whole reason Awards are given.

    Why should children strive to improve themselves, when they get rewarded for existing.

  • A pat on the back for trying is one thing. But to hand a child a trophy for not winning is wrong. We have created a generation of young people that can’t cope with life. Life isn’t easy and sometimes even your best isn’t good enough. It’s important to teach kids how to deal with not winning. On the other side we need to teach those that win how to win gracefully.