I know you’ll be stunned -- Presentations of awards for participating has found support from…


As you are likely aware, there is a battle going on right now about recognizing participation. It’s the trophies for all debate… the not keeping score debate… the everyone gets hugs and no lowers here debate… and it has been going on for several years.

Check out this quote…

Recently it’s been rather trendy to be negative toward participation awards and to blame them for kids feeling entitled or not learning to be competitive. But what’s really causing that? Is it really a participation award or the environment they’re living in? You know, entitlement predates participation awards.

Comes from this article in USA Today by Josh Peter.

It’s an interesting question. It’s hard to blame a ribbon… a medal… a trophy… awarded for playing a sport or competing in a contest as, on its own, causing a shift in society’s behavior.

Here’s another quote from that same article…

Is there anything wrong with giving a medal or a token that says, ‘Good job. You participated. You did something good.’ I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.

And there you have another good point. We often see the wonderful, proud moments found in telling competitors that they did their best even if not victorious.

Are you ready for the surprise?

Beyond my opinions… more on those in a second… there is something very funny in this article. See… Peters is discussing a recent event where a professional athlete went off on participation awards his children had received. And those quotes above… I know you’re going to be stunned… they come from trophy makers. Yes, indeed, absolutely… the groups supporting the idea of awarding all participants a trophy are the groups that manufacture and sell the trophies.

Maybe that shouldn’t surprise us. Any debate will involve, in high and low concentrations levels, biased participants. But there are a few ways of handling biased participants.

First -- It gets done obviously and openly.

If we have a debate about foods, and the issue begins earning significant attention… let’s say sugary beverages or healthy meals as an example… I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see soft drink makers approached for their opinions, Twitter and Facebook posts from fast food outlets, and other companies that all seem to support the freedoms of choice, applaud their product lines, and in general debate the results of any damaging research.

But it’s right there… we know exactly what these industry-types would say, and quite honestly, in defending their brands what they should say. No one is surprised when they come out supporting the products they produce.

What you hope for is that some changes come along from such discussion. Fast food establishments offering apple slices instead of fries… people drinking water and other options more often and lowering the amount of sugary drinks… and other general ideas, where we can find that even when a discussion takes place featuring openly partial groups there is some way to see improvements.

Second -- The connections and interests are kept completely hidden from view.

Supposedly independent voices are brought in, and only if you take the time to investigate them will you find out where funding is raised… the personal beliefs of senior management and ownership that is conveyed as almost a mission statement, even though the name of the group sees fair and balanced.

Heading back to the central idea of this essay, I simply love how the supporting of participation awards in the linked article is left solely to manufactures of participation awards. Seriously… go read the article. Every person identified as a supporter of participation awards… every person cited that says they are a great idea… is employed in some way by the industry of producing awards.

Ok… ok… my opinion…

I don’t like participation awards.

When I was younger, there was a reason that a select group of kids was wearing team jackets. They had earned them. They had won them.

And I think practices such as not keeping score, or generically handing out trophies for showing up… well… more often than not such efforts miss the mark.

There is something much more important that I think doesn’t get mentioned at all… and that is the other ways participation and accomplishments can be recognized.

Many of the leagues I joined in younger days often used uniforms as an award of sorts… t-shirts for the players that stayed with you at the end rather than a uniform that needed to be turned in.

A few coaches of mine took the time to have team dinners… usually pizza parties or some other relatively low cost event… at the end of the season. And there, team awards were given for things like most valuable, most improved, most supportive and so on. I remember those as amazing evenings and gatherings… I don’t recall us being disappointed if we hadn’t won the league championship… don’t recall it as being half-hearted… I recall them as celebrations. Our team celebrations.

What I am saying is that generally the best encouragement, and most meaningful awards, are unexpected and unsolicited. Children are far more intelligent than we normally give them credit for being. They observe things. They form opinions. They have emotional reactions. Same as us. They are acutely aware of the praise and support they receive, and I am certain they know the score of the game they are playing and when a trophy has been handed to them for nothing.

In short -- It is my opinion that these trophies far too often aren’t for the participants… they’re for the parents. It’s a way of feeling better because the award can be pointed out, with every-child-here-a-winner claims made and defended. And yet, once again, it’s a defense filled with biased participants.

Mind you… I’m not against rewarding, recognizing, and celebrating participation. If you want to give a participation trophy, go ahead. All I can hope is that we find a way to make it meaningful… not something adults celebrate while patting themselves on the back for their thoughtfulness… not something that is automatic after paying a registration fee.

None of us are entitled to a trophy for anything. Hopefully though, when they are awarded, we can find ways to give those trophies meaning.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com