To trophy or not to trophy?

Karmyn had a post this week about field day for her kid and how everyone gets a participation ribbon. It made me ponder and instead of leaving written projectile v0mit all over her comments, I decided to make my own post about it. 

I can’t decide if a ribbon for just effort is a good thing or not. I guess for something like that, if you participate, yes, because it’s the whole school and you’re forced into it. It’s not like you have a big choice in the matter. But I hate it that every kid, whether they sat the bench or not in whatever sport when they’re young, ends up with an 8 inch tall trophy just because they showed up. Soccer, dance, t-ball, not to mention contests of various flavors.  To me, it’s enough to know that I tried my best and have good memories and learned something. I don’t need a trophy for that.

I remember I got a trophy for sportsmanship the first year I was in 4-H with the horses. I don’t know why I got it, as that was about 20 ish years ago, but I found out what sportsmanship was after that, and began cheering on the other members with their participation, and although I never won again, I was glad to cheer them on, and whether they knew it or not, someone out there was rooting for them. However, I participated in a beauty pageant (shut up, I KNEW I wasn’t beautiful, but my point of doing it was forcing myself to get over my shyness of speaking in public, yes I tortured myself like that several times). One year there were only like 4 girls participating and there was the winner and first and second runners up and then of course the last girl didn’t get anything (well everyone got some prize packages like dollars off of tanning certificates and lotions and stuff), but she didn’t ‘win’ anything. So the next year, when I did it, they gave away a trophy to everyone who entered. I have it, boxed up somewhere, it doesn’t mean anything to me. What means something to me is the fact that I got up, knowing I could never win, I did a little dance thing, I modeled a gown, and I answered my question like everyone else. I was nervous, but I beat down the nerves and did it. I was proud of myself for it and didn’t need a trophy for that. Any suggestions on how to recycle it?

What exactly ARE we teaching kids when they get a trophy for everything? That even if you sat the bench and were sullen the whole time because you didn’t get to play, you get the same shiny reward to keep forever and ever as everyone else? Wouldn’t something like a free ice cream cone from a local store be better? Everyone gets together after the game to rehash the season and everyone has a feel good ending, whether it was a losing season or not? Occasionally the ball club leader we had would buy all of us a soda after t-ball at the concession stand. That would have been impossible for my family, but for them it wasn’t a big deal, so it was a nice treat for me. I always appreciated it and said thank you. The fact that we tried hard and hit the ball and ran and basically didn’t pick dandelions out in the field was good enough for them, and I liked that. We didn’t need a trophy to remember the fun.

There’s my 2 cents.  Now leave yours in the comments.


  1. This is just the tip of the ice-berg and it happens a lot in education, too.

    Somewhere in the last couple of decades we got it in our heads that children should never feel badly or left out or whatever. I don’t want to put my children into lots of situations where they are going to have hurt feelings, but I’m not raising them in a bubble either. For example I RARELY “let” my four-year-old win games. Now we play lots of games where there is an element of luck, but we play fair. I always tell her if she’s old enough to play then she’s old enough to play by the rules. If a game is too frustrating we’ll put it away until she is a little older. But I think learning how to lose gracefully and win gracefully is an important part of playing.

    If you want to recognize participation, I think a little certificate is fine, but maybe not for a school event that everyone has to participate in. Kids aren’t dumb, they know when they didn’t do anything to earn that trophy/ribbon/etc.

    When you do want to recognize everyone then I think it is important to recognize something they’ve accomplished. I did sometimes do end of the year awards with my first graders, and everyone received an award, but I would find something specific that each child had worked hard at that year and recognize those efforts. They did not get awards for turning in homework or other things that were just expected.

    Yeesh – I’ll shut up now!

  2. Stacy Wolfmeyer

    I’ll keep it short, since Jill asked for 2 cents – not a whole dollar, which is what I usually tend to give!

    I agree entirely with Kelsey’s post.

    All they’ve succeeded in doing by awarding everyone (and so frequently for something that was an expectation anyway, that does not deserve awards), is creating a generation that feels a sense of entitlement. And that is very much NOT what the world needs right now.

    Let’s see if I can say this right. My opinion is that if it is a competition that someone chooses to participate in (track, football, cheerleading, band, whatever) then there should only be awards for the people who “won,” whatever that means in that event. You don’t need to give everyone who participates anything, because the competition is part of that. Things are different when it is in more of a learning environment than competative environment. Especially with young kids.

    The younger they are, I think the tangible incentives are more important, and should be given with higher frequency. Perhaps that comes from my behavior management training, though 🙂 Anyway, they shouldn’t get awarded for everything they do, especially if it is an established expectation.

    I guess what I’m trying to say but failing miserably at (so do I still get a ribbon for trying 😉 ??) is not everyone should get something always. Sure, a certificate of participation, a free ice cream cone at McDonald’s or some other participating business or movie rental from Family Video or whatever, but awards ought to be given to those who EARN them. Besides, verbal praise is really better at building up someone’s intrinsic motivation. Kids need to be taught that sometimes it’s great to do something just for the experience, not the reward at the end. They need to know that they don’t always get rewarded for everything they do. That’s not how the real world works. We want to teach kids the fun and the value of just being part of something, but shouldn’t undermine the accomplishments of those who have worked hard for them.

    Did any of that make sense? I found myself having troubles putting my thoughts into logical sentences!

  3. Stacy Wolfmeyer

    Sometimes everyone getting something is very age-appropriate. There are times when that is absolutely the way to go. Not to say big kids don’t need something to boost their days, either. Just not always, with everything.

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