You get trophies, and you get trophies, everyone gets participation trophies!
Sometimes I feel like we’re on Oprah when she’s handing out cars except they are participation trophies. Since when has life handed you a gold medal even after coming in last place? Never! That’s because life isn’t kind, and neither is the world on most days. The world doesn’t care about your feelings. So why are we teaching our children that life works differently by handing them a gold medal even when they fail?! All we are doing is setting them up for disappointment, removing their desire for competition, and we are teaching them that failure is a bad word. Well I for one, refuse to lie to my kids by making them think they did something great, when they didn’t put in the hard work to succeed.
Where do you stand on participation trophies?
I remember the first year one of my son’s played a sport. Me eldest decided to play soccer for his school. As the season came to a close, the young team did worked hard, but never won a game. When it was time for the schools award ceremony, I struggled with how to approach the topic with my young 7-year-old. Although I praised his dedication and hard work, I don’t agree with him getting a trophy for losing all the games.
So I sat him down and we discussed how sometimes we work hard and put in a LOT of effort, and sometimes we win but many times we don’t. And that is okay! It’s about learning from our mistakes, and working hard to get better. I want him to know that sometimes it can take years of work to achieve a goal. But that just makes the sense of accomplishment that much sweeter.
So I asked him what he thought; although his team worked really hard, did he believe they won and deserved the winners trophies? Even he knew the answer was ‘No’. As parents I think we have urge to always make things easier and better for our children. Yet they need to learn how to fail while they are young and resilient. Without that we are doing them a disservice, setting them up for disappointment and removing competition.
The Upcoming Disappointment
Our job as parents is to teach them how to manage themselves, life, work, stress, all the many hats they will have to wear while dodging life’s curveballs. But we are doing the opposite by supporting the lack of achievement. If you son or daughter, actually worked hard and still wasn’t the best. Which happens to all of us, we should be teaching them the life lesson that sometimes, even when you work hard, you still fall short. But you still need to pick yourself up dust yourself off, and either try it again. Because sometimes just takes a little practice.
When we take part in the epidemic of participation awards we are feeding the beast and the losers are our children. We are leaving them ill-equipped to handle life and the curve balls it throw inevitably at them.
“The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.” – Robert Green Interpol
Removing Competition with Participation Trophies
Now for a moment let us go back in your own history. Imagine that you are sitting in your favorite class. You always excel in the class, but it is in part, because you study hard to make good grades. The next day you have a test. You study all night. As the test comes to a close you are anxious but feel as if you’ve done alright. You hear some of the other students saying they hadn’t studied at all. But they knew you would set the curve and help them get a better grade.
The next day the results are in. You receive a well deserved A. But the teacher soon explains he will be grading the class differently this time around. He states that you had the highest score and since everyone else did so poorly, he didn’t want them to be upset, so he gave them all an A as well. How would this make you feel? Should you have even studied at all? If he’s just going to hand out As to everyone, what is the point?
As the person that put in the hours of studying I would be overcome with feelings of resentment and confusion. To see everyone suddenly walk away with the same achievement is disheartening. I know I would feel it, along with frustration and anger! I will let you in on a little secret; our children feel it too.
We can’t expect them to practice and work hard at something if there is no competitive spirit left. We are removing competition from the equation. By doing this we are leaving children with no desire to do anything more than the bare minimum.
Failure is not a Bad Word
For many, the word failure has a very negative connotation. This is understandable! However failure is so much more than not succeeding. Although it shouldn’t come with participation trophies, failure is an opportunity to learn and to improve! Sometimes we have to learn what doesn’t work, before we can figure out what does work. That is the impression that we need to be leaving on our children. If there is anything I want my children to know, it’s that life is full of mistakes and failures. But it is how you react to them, and what you do after them that counts. Failure is not a bad word, it’s an opportunity to grow.
”I can’t imagine a more boring existence, than one without failure in it”- Mike Rowe
My kids won’t be accepting Participation Trophies any time soon
Now I know I probably sound like an old spinster right now, or perhaps like I don’t want my kids to express themselves. But that is surely not the case! I want my kids to have passions! But I also want them to know that although they may be passionate about something, sometimes your passion doesn’t necessarily line up with your ability. But when you find the place where your ability and passion intersect; that’s your sweet spot.
In this world it is our job as parents to give our children all the skills they need to be responsible successful adults. To me part of that is sometimes showing tough love and letting their feelings get hurt. Because it is in those times that I can help teach them to deal with their hurt and sadness. Teach them how to overcome their failure. This is what will give them the skills to overcome whatever hardships life wants to throw at them and I will know that they are strong, and equipped to rise above it.