Why Participation Trophies Are Good

By Adam Jusko, ProudMoney.com, adam@proudmoney.com

I just heard another person give the tired rant about how kids are soft from getting participation trophies, how these trophies make them think they’re great when they’re not, how the kids who excelled got shortchanged by getting the same trophies as the kids who were terrible, blah, blah, blah.

I get it.

But I disagree with it. I think participation trophies are good, and I’ll tell you why:

Participation trophies encourage you to try things.

Kids know the best players on their teams. They know who runs the fastest, who scores the most goals. No participation trophy is going to fool them into believing everyone is the same. Kids start measuring themselves against others before they are out of diapers. Any parent could tell you that, assuming they are paying any attention.

The participation trophy isn’t telling kids, “You’re the best.” It’s telling them, “It’s awesome you tried! Keep trying things!” (Even if you didn’t finish first.)

I don’t know the statistics, but I’m sure less than 1/10 of one percent of us will ever be a professional athlete. The other 99.9%+ will compete in the work world, on playing fields where the rules are ever-changing and the “goal” is more than a little fuzzy. (Other than to make money, of course.) For those of us not literally throwing touchdowns, we could use a few more symbolic participation trophies in our lives.

To the recent college graduate in her first job: “Hey, Grace, nice job on that presentation.” (Grace knows her presentation wasn’t the best one in the meeting, but she also knows she’s new to this and the encouragement makes her want to get even better.)

To the overweight guy in the spinning class for the first time: “You looked good on the bike today.” (He knows he didn’t look that good, but he’s encouraged to come back instead of giving up after seeing how fit everyone else is.)

Those are the participation trophies you get as an adult. They’re good.

Also: We live in a world that pretends to celebrate those who “think different.” But, in truth, those who think different are often treated like crap until the day their success is undeniable. Then they suddenly become a lot more attractive.

We watch commercials that encourage us to “just do it” but roll our eyes at the person who just does it and looks incompetent or chooses an “it” to do that is not our idea of success.

We say people should try new things, but too often we subtly discourage them or give them snark about their less-than-ideal results.

What we should be doing is giving them participation trophies: “I love your enthusiasm.” “I can tell you’re getting better.” “That’s so interesting!”

The older you get, the more discouragement you’ve received, the harder it becomes to convince yourself to “get in the game.” We may sometimes need tough love, but we don’t need it every day of our lives. More often, we need someone to give us a shiny metal ornament that motivates us to keep coming back for more.

I say hurrah for participation trophies. Keep ’em coming!

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