The most widely debated arguments surrounding youth sports and activities are participation trophies. Plenty of older-aged parents speak out against participation trophies, while those with young children don’t see the harm. The conversation mostly surrounds the effect participation trophies have on children’s development—is it harmful or helpful? Let’s look at both sides of the argument.


Participation Trophies Do More Harm than Good

Critics of participation trophies claim that handing out awards to every participant is a form of overprotection and privilege. In other words, giving prizes to each child gives children an excuse not to perform and encourages them to feel that their performance doesn’t matter. These kids will never experience failure and the benefits of learning from it. All in all, these opponents think that kids will grow up with an entitlement that will only hurt society as these children grow up.

Many coaches and those involved with sports on a professional level have spoken out against this school of thought, “[Participation trophies] are bad for kids, bad for parents, bad for society,” Cobi Jones, former Olympian and midfielder for the Los Angeles Galaxy, said during a PragerU interview. “This belief — that showing up is an accomplishment is self-destructive because the pain of losing is part of what drives one to improve. […] In the real world, you’re rewarded for achievement, not effort.”

Some research against participation trophies is on the antagonists’ side, as well. In a 2017 Spartan News Room interview Dan Gould, a sports psychologist was quoted saying, “For rewards to work, they need to be earned. If you’re trying to increase a kid’s motivation, emphasize health, or emphasize how fun it is to move or play ball.”

Sports and other activities have long been used as a way of encouraging youth to do their best. An external reward will help motivate them to show up and perform. By merely handing them participation trophies, opponents to the argument believe the experience will be tainted and hurt their developmental growth. However, not every psychologist agrees.


How Participation Trophies May Help the Developing Mind

Participation trophy advocates hold the belief that creating winners and losers can actually be toxic to a developing mind. According to sports and clinical psychologist Jonathan Fader, phrases like “You’re a winner” or “You’re a natural” can make it more difficult for kids to cope when confronted with losing. When a child is praised for their efforts rather than their ability to perform, they will enjoy activities more and can deal with failure in a more resilient way, argues child psychologist, Carol Dweck.

Altogether, the best defense for participation trophies in the overwhelming benefit of positive reinforcement, especially for youth. Rewarding children for their efforts reinforces the belief that being present, working hard, and contributing is the most important part of the entire process. In fact, rewarding kids only for their outcomes can lead them to cut corners.

In a study conducted by Cornell University, participants were offered a choice between an easy test and a difficult one after being praised for their intelligence and working hard. 67% of the kids praised for being “smart” chose the easier test, while 92% of the kids praised for working hard chose the more difficult one. This study backtracks any argument against participation trophies, proving that a winner and loser mentality hinders growth. Participation trophies show kids that trying and failing is a better choice than never trying at all.


The Participation Trophy Verdict

In the end, handing out participation trophies is up to the parents and coaches. How you choose to raise your children is entirely your decision. There is supporting evidence for both sides of the argument, and you can pick which side fits your child best. In the end, physical rewards can encourage hard work, dedication, and positivity, whether it is a participation trophy or a winning award.

If you are looking for a trophy or award to hand out at your next big sporting event, look no further than McGee’s Stamp and Trophy. Our shop has a wide variety of sports trophies to choose from, including resin trophies, metal trophies, glass awards, and more. Find everything you need by browsing our online shop or visiting us in-store today.