The Pel Mel

The Price of a Participation Trophy

Ella Stern, Junior, Assistant Features Editor

If you are an American teenager, it is very likely that you have a “participation” trophy, medal, or certificate sitting in your room collecting dust. It has probably idly sat there since you were a part of that rec soccer team in elementary school where you made a total of two goals and really only came to practice for the free ice cream your mom got you afterwards. The problem, however, isn’t that you got the trophy, after all you did participate; it is whether or not the idea that “everyone is a winner” for merely being a part of the effort is truly celebrating the accomplishments of those who deserve it, or if the mentality represented by participation trophies are realistically diminishing the value of true talent or abilities.

By allowing everyone to be a winner, we reduce the value of true accomplishment. Imagine this: you worked extremely hard all week getting ready for the big game of the season while your friend went to practice once, maybe twice, during the week. To your astonishment, you made the game winning goal. You’re exhilarated, only to see that the same friend that barely practiced earned the same “participation” trophy that you did. That friend didn’t really deserve the trophy, but the overwhelming mentality in America that everyone deserves to feel like they have won, just for showing up, is reflected in these “participation trophies.” The effects are detrimental. If a child learns at a young age that they will be celebrated for putting in minimal effort, they will be defeated later on in life. For example, the kid on the team that puts in the time to prepare for the game will continue with this same attitude throughout life and most likely excel. A person with all these characteristics will go on to have a more successful future than a child who only earned trophies by default. Similarly, an athlete at a young age who is recognized for their abilities and not merely for participating will become a more competent athlete as they will understand that putting in work means getting good results; this element of winning is damaged by everyone being celebrated.

Horace, a famous Roman poet wrote, “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.” In this way Horace meant that to struggle is to learn. If students, and young athletes, are celebrated for participating, how will they ever learn what it means to work hard towards a goal? Being defeated and rebuilding is equally as important as winning. For the same reason, allowing for separate teams to be created solely for those who do not make the Varsity or JV level teams is indicative of a culture that is willing to teach children that they can get anything they want without actually earning it. Children and young athletes learn an especially valuable lesson by not making a team the first time they try-out. They learn that they will have to work even harder to come back and get the position on an elite team.

Some may argue that you cannot let young athletes lose because it is simply too hard to see a kid be defeated, and some kids may otherwise never get a trophy. The argument against this is simple: all of life is a competition and to make kids realize this will create a stronger, more capable character later in life. If a child cannot excel in one area then they should apply themselves to another sport, game, or academic competition in which they will get a trophy. It’s reasonable that a participant be acknowledged for participating. However, participation trophies perpetuate a society that honors minimal effort and mere attendance, not hard work. James Harrison, former Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker, returned his sons’ participation trophies, writing, “… 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, because sometimes your best is not enough and that should drive you to want to do better.” Harrison, an elite level athlete and double superbowl winner, knows best what it takes to work hard and reach desired results.

In a commencement speech to the graduates of Wellesley High School, the author David McCollough compelled the students to shift their emphasis. “I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Resist the easy comforts of complacency…the narcotic paralysis of self satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages.” The speaker makes it clear here that if America goes on enjoying achievements by it falling into your lap it is inevitable that you will be unhappy later on in life.

Everyone deserves to be a winner at some point in their lives, but participation trophies allow for people to have accomplishments merely handed to them instead of earned. Participation trophies are a nice sentiment, but they need to stop. At the end of the day, there’s only so much room on the winner’s podium.

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The School Newspaper of Pelham Memorial High School
The Price of a Participation Trophy