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The Great Trophy Debate: Do We Need Participation Awards?

The Great Trophy Debate: Do We Need Participation Awards?

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“Daddy, do we have a sports award for hockey this spring?” my son asked me a few months back.

“No, you get to go out and run around and have lots of fun while learning lacrosse,” I said.

“OK!” Then he turned and ran out on the field for the start of his first practice.

According to some people, he should have stormed back to the car and refused to play. After all, there were no trophies being handed out. But he didn’t, because he just wanted to play.

Over the last few weeks, there has been a lot written on whether children should receive participation trophies for youth sports. The debate was ignited when Pittsburg Steelers star James Harrison very publicly returned his 6 and 8 year-old children’s participation awards, stating:

“While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best.”

While Harrison is certainly not the model citizen for doling out positive parenting advice, nor is 8 and under sports the cauldron for developing men, his remarks did ignite a very relevant debate: Should youth sports organizations be providing players with trophies and medals simply for showing up?

On one side, proponents of participation sports award stated that it was worth a few bucks to give kids a big smile, and that such awards did not cause long term damage or build entitlement in kids.

On the other side, much of the sports world chimed in stating that Harrison was right. They said simply giving out winning, coaching, parents and youth sportsawards for showing up was tantamount to child abuse (according to reporter Jim Nance), as it does not teach kids about the real world, and promotes a warped sense of their own self-importance.

Even representatives of the multi-million dollar trophy maker industry chimed in, stating that entitlement predated participation awards. They agreed that it does not make sense to hand them out to 17 year olds, but when it comes to kids, JDS Industries Scott Sletton stated, “Is there anything wrong with giving a medal or a token that says, ‘Good job. You participated. You did something good.’ I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.”

So where do I stand on this issue? Many people emailed me or posted questions on social media asking for my opinion. Are participation awards a good thing, or a bad thing? Is there anything wrong with handing them out?

First of all, let me say here that the last youth football organization I managed did give the participation Sports Award, which I seldom think about. But over the past few years, I have thought a lot about this issue, and here is my position.

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