Participation trophies. In youth sports, they are either a great way to boost every child's self-esteem, or the root cause of a generation of young adults who feel they are entitled to something just because the next person got it. However you look at them, there are strong feelings on either side of the issue.
For those that believe that giving every kid a trophy is a good thing, the reasoning is clear. Every kid that finished the season accomplished something, whether that was being a member of the best team, or simply learning how to properly execute a two-hand chest pass. That accomplishment is to be celebrated. Consider also that the kids on the least-talented team in the league also had the farthest to travel on their journey. For the team stacked with athletes, all they really needed to do was show up.
For the youngest kids involved in youth sports, they are just beginning to learn about teamwork and accomplishing something as a small part of a bigger whole. As they struggle to develop an identity within the framework of a bigger picture, participation trophies help continue to recognize their individual role. Not every kid can be the best shooter, the best dribbler or even be on the best team. But without all the other teams, the champion would have no one to compete against. Recognizing everyone tells each athlete that they were important in some way to a successful season, and at the same time contributes to their feeling of self-worth.
As kids get older, the statistics tell us that 70 percent of kids will quit organized team sports by the age of 13. That is a shocking number, and of those 70 percent a vast majority state they quit because it is no longer fun to play. To that end, everyone getting a trophy is part of preserving the fun aspect of sports. For a nation struggling with a childhood obesity epidemic, participation trophies represent more than just a way to reward everyone for playing.
But sports, especially at the youth level, are also about learning tough life lessons. Sometimes, no matter how hard you work at something, it is just not in the cards for everyone to attain the same level of success. This is also an important part of the game of life. Each game has a winner and a loser, and if everyone is receiving a trophy no matter how hard they played, where is the reward for the athlete for a job well done?
If we continue to make everyone feel like winners, even when they fail to succeed, they will never have to look at themselves in the mirror and honestly appraise their abilities. The participation trophies usually don't continue into adulthood. At some point we all will have to face disappointment, and if we have not learned that lesson young, it will be a bitter pill to swallow.
There are no easy answers. The hard truth is that at the end of the day, all trophies are really just empty cups. It is what we choose to fill those cups with, metaphorically, that determines their real value.