As an active coach of youth sports, I have personally witnessed the performance, attitudes, and motivation of many young people. While the experience has generally been quite positive, there is one idea that I believe is fundamentally flawed. That is the idea of a “participation trophy” – a prize or award for just showing up.
Now I am a big believer in maintaining a positive, encouraging environment in which young people can learn and develop. However, the thought of building an “expectation” that regardless of your attitude, behavior or performance you will still be rewarded in the same manner is just the wrong approach in my view.
What do we honestly hope to achieve with the “participation trophy?”
Are we worried that our kids will be forever scarred if they do not experience winning at every turn? Do we believe they are in such a fragile mental state at a young age that they MUST be a winner in everything they do? Why do we feel compelled to shelter our kids from any possible feeling of failure?
While some may disagree, I believe we are making a huge mistake in teaching our young people that rewards come this easy. That’s not real life. In fact, I think the effects can actually set many young people up for sustained failure in the future if we create the expectation that they can win (achieve) without putting in the work.
Does a student graduate with honors without working hard to do well in class? No. Does the boss pay bonuses to the team just for showing up? I should hope not.
Perhaps a more meaningful approach is to help young people understand what it takes to be a winner. It takes a good attitude, self-motivation, a genuine desire, solid teamwork (in many cases) and a lot of hard work. If we fail we need to know how that feels. We need to learn from it, and understand what we need to do to improve. Failure can be a real positive, and create a “fire in the belly” that only those who have failed will ever know or experience. Failure inspires winners.
So save the rewards for the big achievements when we truly reach a goal that is more meaningful than just showing up. If we avoid seeking unearned rewards such as the “participation trophy,” we will take full advantage of our true abilities and achievement potential.