The Problem With Participation Awards

We need to get rid of participation awards. No one needs a prize for just showing up and doing the bare minimum. By giving out an award, that just encourages people to be average. They know they’ll get a trophy no matter how well they do in whatever activity, so they don’t even try.

Set higher standards and raise the expectations. If you reward everybody, you’re saying that any performance, no matter how good or bad, deserves recognition. This diminishes the success of the people who actually deserve an award and deserve to be recognized for their ability.

Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”  People need to be allowed to learn from their mistakes. When someone loses, they’ll feel discouraged, but they’ll work harder to win the next game, improving their skills in the process. When you throw a participation award into the mix, the players feel no need to work harder, because they already got a prize.

Participation trophies could also lead to narcissism. Trophies typically represent being better than another person in a competition, so that’s how participation awards will be seen as well. Some kids will think they’re better than everyone because they got a trophy, even when they aren’t the best.

When a child receives a participation trophy, it encourages and motivates them for the wrong reasons. Kids should want to play a sport or participate in an academic activity because it improves their skills, allows them to make friends, and they enjoy it, not because they know they’ll get a prize.

Recently, I walked a mile with a group of people for a fundraiser. Afterwards, I was given a “medal”. I didn’t want it. I didn’t do anything exceptional that was worthy of an award, I just walked along with everybody else.

It’s okay to recognize everybody for their progress, while still acknowledging that they weren’t the winner, and that they must work harder to do better. You can still encourage them when they lose, but not reward them.

Participation awards ultimately do more harm than good. They give kids an inflated self-worth. It’s positive reinforcement when there’s nothing that should be reinforced. It could set children up to be adults who expect praise for minimal effort and who can’t handle failure. By getting rid of participation awards, we would prepare children to be more successful in the future.