CON: Participation Trophies Stifle Individuals Drive to Gain Accomplishments and to Succeed Past Adversity


Sarah Natchipolsky, Staff Writer

Almost anyone who has participated in youth sports has a small collection of participation trophies collecting dust on a shelf or sitting in a box somewhere in their house. While they may seem meaningless, participation trophies are a symbol for the toxic “everybody’s a winner” mindset that has become commonplace in today’s society.

Participation trophies first began to appear in the 1960s and since then have become a typical part of the youth athletics experience. The concept that “you’re the best because you tried” is strongly associated with rewarding children for their participation and can result in many of these so called “winners” losing their desire to compete and to earn legitimate praise for real success. Being a strong competitor is an invaluable asset for later in life that should be nurtured during childhood.

According to a study conducted by psychologist Carol Dweck, when children are praised constantly for their effort rather than the result, it negatively affects their ability to overcome adversity. If children becomes accustomed to hearing how fantastic they are because they tried, they are likely to give up when they fail rather than working hard until they succeed.

If children learn that failure is an option early on, they can learn from their mistakes and be motivated to challenge themselves and improve. Competition is part of the real world and if children expect to succeed simply because they tried and showed up, their adult lives will be riddled with disappointment.

“I think that the everybody’s a winner attitude teaches kids that they are entitled to everything and I don’t think that that’s a good idea to go through life with. Learning how to lose teaches people that they have to work for what they want,” sophomore student athlete Lauren Giron said.

Professors Shannon Zentall and Bradley Morris conducted an experiment in which children received varying types of praise for their drawings. Groups were given generic praise such as “you’re a good drawer,” specific praise such as “this cat was drawn well” or a mix of the two. All of the children received criticism for their art, and their ability to persevere past the criticism was measured through a series of questions.

Zentall and Morris’ study found that children who received only specific praise wished to persevere and progress even after facing criticism. The less specific praise they received, the more likely they were to give up. Participation trophies are a form of generic praise. They convey the message that the child is good at soccer or swimming without saying why. The child did not win first place in a race and his or her team did not win its division; he or she simply showed up.

One can expect that similar to the results of Zentall and Morris’ study, children who receive the generic praise of participation trophies will develop a lack of motivation to improve and compete. Athletics are a valuable childhood experience that teach children about competition and healthy exercising habits, but when everyone wins, our generation loses.