PRO: Participation Trophies Give Young Athletes Motivation and Confidence


I feel as though I’ve been waiting my whole life to argue the pros of participation trophies. In fact, my short-lived dalliances with everything from taekwondo, to my admittedly lackluster performances in beat poetry jams have uniquely prepared me to explain the benefits of such regalia.

Firstly, I’d like to swiftly and brutally dismantle the inevitable arguments from the other side of the column that are centered around the belief that the eighth place 50 meter freestyle ribbon I “won” at a swim meet eight years ago could somehow fool me into thinking I was being praised. My guess is that upon receiving such a merciless indicator of aquatic decrepitude, the overwhelming majority of kids today would do what I did: ask around the family to see who made it over to Michael’s to buy ribbon and an embossing kit.

How children react to any form of praise is almost totally subjective to their personality, as well as already existing family dynamics. To suggest that handing out certificates for participation will have a corrosive effect on the younger generation is akin to harboring a genuine fear that vaping will gain any form of significance in our society. These things are impossible for the same two reasons; everyone already ruthlessly makes fun of the practice, and even those who don’t can admit that it’s not something anyone wants to be directly associated with anyway.

In any case, participation trophies don’t dilute or distract from what true success is; nor do they usually convince the receiver that they are just as cool as the actually talented people. Ultimately, the practice is about celebrating what it means to be in a community of people who give a piece of their life and effort towards some shared outlet. This encouragement is much more about comradery and competition than it is about hurt feelings.

The science behind children’s motivation to succeed being affected by general commendation is substantive and should be considered. However, I respectfully dissent from the inclination towards rationing praise, only doling out pats on the head and plastic medals that keep ending up under the sofa cushion when dominance or something close to it is seen as achieved. It is a dangerous sentiment that discourages communal appreciation and leads to kids thinking that hard work isn’t as important as winning.

It is not and should not ever be a certificate of merit’s job to motivate and validate the work and dedication of children, or anyone for that matter. I can’t convince anyone set on disparaging the merits of participation trophies any more than I can convince someone to have empathy. If you think that stuff is chump change, then ignore it. If you aren’t a crusty old killjoy and/or have seen a disabled cousin’s smile light up from getting his certificate for passing his incredibly un-unpassable “P.E.” class as I have, just shut up and clap.