Participation trophy culture: The demise of competitive sports


Photo by Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

A row of participations ready to be given out to athletes

Connor Drobny, Assistant Managing Editor of Sports

   Trophies have always been a symbol of success. Something tangible, something visible, something that symbolizes a victory. This is the very definition of a trophy, a reward you get for winning. However, a paradox exists. One can falter and receive a reward, a trophy; no, not a regular trophy, a participation ‘trophy.’ Participation trophies are damaging to youths because they instill a sense of entitlement; that one deserves a reward no matter the outcome, and bruise the potential for improvement of those receiving said trophies. 

   Why does one play sports? Maybe to get active. Perhaps to make friends. But why should these reasons result in a trophy that can be displayed proudly on a mantle? Athletes should play the sport because they love the sport. Participation trophies tell children that they play the sport to earn a reward at the end of the season. This is a mistake. In reality, the reward is the opportunity to play the sport. The reward is getting closer to a group of people. The reward is knowing they did it. The reward is not the medal. Giving every kid a medal communicates that their utmost goal is an award, not the sport itself. This also dilutes the importance of the trophy for teams receiving a winner’s trophy.

   When you lose, it never feels good. Why should it? Losing tells one that they did not do enough. You did not work hard enough. You did not compete enough. Your skill is lacking in some way. While this may seem condescending to children, it is a valuable lesson. They get what they work for. This lesson repeats itself an uncountable amount of times throughout life. Suppose a child is rewarded for failure, then their competitive spirit is ultimately tarnished. They have no motivation to try harder. They are told that they did enough, even if they did not. If you give no reward for losing, it tells that child to try harder next time. It gives them motivation.

   Now, I fully believe confidence is very important as a child. A lack of confidence can decrease performance and possibly love for the sport. However, participation trophies are not the solution. Participation trophies do not create confidence; they spark entitlement. Giving children participation trophies conveys that they deserve a reward. While this trend may continue in the early stages of their life, it likely will not for long, ruining their confidence later in life.

   Participation trophies have gone farther than being a fad; it has become a culture. Adults complain that the kids of this era are entitled, that they have no work effort. While this might be partially true, we were not born this way; we were taught it. Take away participation trophies. Dispose of this culture.