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When Should Kids Get Trophies?

August 24, 2010
107 Comments

I’ve been thinking about trophies. Think back to your own childhood, be it 5 years ago or, like mine, 30 or so years ago. For what sorts of activities did you get trophies or awards?

I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago. I played slow pitch softball for a few years as a kid, and got nothing the first year because the Calumet Park Oranges softball team was really not very good. The second year, we won first or second place and got a trophy that I still have to this day. It was fun, and it was a big deal to us.

Moving on to high school…I played tennis and was extremely over-involved in other artsy-fartsy sorts of activities. I have no trophies or awards from choir, the numerous plays I was in, or any of that stuff. I have junior and varsity letters for tennis. But that’s it.

Point is: we only got trophies if we WON something.

Nowadays, it seems that kids get trophies merely for showing up. Every kid has to get something – or at least the parents feel that every kid has to get something. My son, who is almost 7, has 6 trophies in his room and he has yet to actually win anything. He loves his trophies and they were an obvious boost to his self-confidence. But still, the kid has not been the cream of the crop (yet) at soccer, or baseball, or whatnot. No championships, no first place, nothing!

A few months ago, I ran the elementary school talent show. It sounds like a minor project but 170 kids participated in 70 different acts. (Imagine the parent interactions I got to enjoy for the 30 days prior to this fun event). One of the conversations really stuck with me. I had sent an email out to all the parents letting them know that we were not sure what “award” the participants were going to get due to budgetary constraints. At a minimum, kids would get a cool medal with a ribbon, but we were hopeful to be able to afford trophies. For all 170 kids. I got an email back from a parent, saying that if there wasn’t budget for the trophies, that she would personally kick in $100-$200 so that all the kids could have a trophy instead of a medal.

Apparently, a medal was simply insufficient, and not reflective of the children’s effort and/or talent.

I thought, does it really matter that much whether it’s a ribbon or a trophy? Do children really feel entitled to a trophy for an event like this or would they be happy with whatever they received? Are we setting our kids up with perilously low expectations of what constitutes success? My parents raised me to understand that success was fueled by hard work, but did not necessarily EQUAL hard work. Can a feeling of accomplishment and achievement can be purchased with a trophy?
I’d like to hear your thoughts.While I’m happy my kid has some trophies, I can’t help but wonder if Yoda was right…there is no try. Do.

Gigi is a stay-at-home mom who has been involved in all things internet since 1997. Gigi combines her love of cooking with a snarky take on motherhood at her blog, KludgyMom.

107 Comments

Thinks this is insightful. I still have my collection of swimming ribbons & Girl Scout Cookie selling patches.... Think I still have a Jr Bowling trophy somewhere also ( all other trophies were lost long ago in various moves). But I earned them all. If you were below 6th I don't think you got anything and we were good with that it... made you practice more & play harder.

Now kids expect a trophy... My 5 yr old finally got her 1st trophy this past spring.....

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I think trophies and medals and certificates have gotten way too out of hand. Participation should be its own reward. Your sweat equity has its own value, and our kids are not learning that.

This is one topic that enrages me! I feel that you need to earn your place in this world.....I also hate the fact that nowadays everyone is a WINNER! BTW, the kids know who won and lost the game! It was such a great and important lesson for me, growing up, to be a "Graceful Loser". What is wrong with this society today? Personally, I expect more of my kids. I do like the idea of everyone getting a certificate....but I feel only the winners shoule get the trophy!

Your post really resonated with me! I have gotten in arguments at PTO meetings about this. Kids love competition as do adults, all with varying degrees, My kids have trophies, medals or picture frames from every sport event that they've ever participated in. All of their sporting leagues have been non-competitive, recruational sporting leagues that they have participated in because they are still young. (one gripe I have is that the winning team can only scored so much)...

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i've been saying the same thing for years. i have a few trophies of my own, a few prized medals, and a ton of (earned) ribbons for gymnastics, track, etc in my day. the children now have a sense of entitlement & no real sense of accomplishment because they haven't known how to win or lose. i'm hoping things will change by the time my 2 are in school in a few years, but am guessing i'll be on the outs like you seem to have been...

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Even more annoying is the idea that some sports don't even keep score anymore because we just can't have winners and losers! It's totally setting our kids up for failure later in life and has already created a generation of kids who think they are entitled to things without doing anything to get it! I'm all for boosting a kids self esteem, but words of encouragement are better (IMO) than a useless trophy that's just gathering dust...

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My husband and I coach a 6,7,8 year old flag football team for our 7 year old. We will give out medals so the kids have a keepsake, but for each game we give out a game ball(win or lose) to the child that put forth the most effort, was a great team player, and EARNS it. Hard work is not rewarded in many sports and many kids expect a trophy or award when they dont deserve it...

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I think trophies for all teaches a sense of entitlement. Why should they strive to be better if the rewards are not greater? I think all kids should get something for participation, but there should still be some sort of spectrum. When I was a kid, for field day there were ribbons. You got blue for first, different colors for second, third, and honorable mention (fourth) and everyone else got a participation ribbon...

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It seems that we are all on the same page about giving trophies for just showing up, they have no value to the kids, and is not teaching them about the concept that not everyone wins.

So my question is when will we as parents stop doing this. Take the registration fees and donate it them to charity, or charge me less.

Sports trophies for all participants have been going on for a long time. Usually they are handed out just in front of the team and parents. The message is-- here's a nice award for hard work during the season. I think it would be different if all the teams were together and place trophies were handed out and then smaller trophies for everyone else...

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I agree that over rewarding can decrease a child's self esteem if they are getting a reward and do not feel that they deserve it. However I thought it was appropriate at the end of the ayso soccer season that each kid got a trophy and each trophy was "individualized." Winners do not always deserve the trophy. We all know that the goalie can let one or two goal slip by when the field players have pushed 100%...

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I preface my comments with the knowledge that differences in character develop into different personalits with different needs and goals.

It was gratifying when my 14yo gr-daughter was estatic about receiving her first trophy for a hard-fought second in a 4-day tennis tournament. She said this was the best trophy she had ever won (plenty in softball where everyone received one) because "I achieved it".....

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I won many trophies for rodeo and horse show events growing up. Even working hard and actually taking first place, I was more interested in the points toward the end of the season saddle or jacket. Things I could actually use, instead of junk pieces of metal that may have meant something the first day I recieved it, but since then has been stuffed in a box in a basement or garage somewhere...

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I think our culture more and more celebrates mediocrity...I don't want my son to have a room full of trophies for just "being there"...I think it is all fine and good to celebrate small accomplishments but seriously people, a trophy is supposed to indicate some sort of excellence or victory! How are our children supposed to learn to be gracious losers? Why would they play/study/practice harder if they know they get a trophy or medal no matter what?! I think the whole thing is absurd not wanting your kid to feel bad if they don't win...we can't all win...learning to lose and be happy for the winner is a far better life lesson...and if you want you can make your own trophy for them at home...just for being your child who tried their best ;)

I feel that you should only get a trophy if you earn it, like 1st, 2nd or 3rd place. If kids get a trophy for everything aren't we just setting them up for disappointment later in life. Do the olympics award trophies or medals for just participating? No. Isn't it then taking away from the kids that really earned the trophies to give them to everyone who participated? It disminishes their accomplishment. I still have the handful of trophies that I earned as a kid. They mean something to me...

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