Growing up, I was always involved in something. Soccer, swimming, science fair -- you name it, my mom had signed me up. Like many other kids, I was proud to show off the medals, trophies and ribbons I was given. Now, when I go home for the weekend, I can see the once prized and supposedly well-earned collection gathering dust.
In recent years, these trophies and ribbons have gained a new reputation. Parents fear that they are teaching their kids the wrong values. Why should you get a prize for participating? Awards should be given out to those who earn them.
While this is true, being a part of something means a lot to young children, and even teens. Fitting in and making friends is pivotal, and participating in sports and clubs is an easy way to do so. These groups provide a space to develop teamwork and leadership skills, and in contrast to the parents who believe that overrides individual effort, collaboration is a skill that goes very far in the grown-up world. I agree work ethic should be taught to children, but I don’t think that trophies really deserve this much polarity.
The fear of rewarding only participation is a valid one. Teaching children that you will be rewarded for only showing up could lead to low ambition, that is true. Maybe it is also true that if everyone is given an award, the value of the trophy diminishes. Hard work and dedication deserve reward, not doing the bare minimum.
Life does not give prizes, even to those who work hard. Outside of the bubble of childhood, expectations are no longer rewarded. Showing up to work, completing homework and doing my best doesn’t earn me ribbons. However, working hard is still rewarded with success. Attendance and participation are often a significant percentage of many courses, and good grades, job opportunities, and leadership positions are presented to those who earn them-- like a trophy.
The mentality of “we are all winners” does not really exist. As a kid, when I got trophies with my team, I was proud not only of myself, but also the kids who had helped me. Teamwork does not take away from individual effort. In fact, working with others to succeed almost makes the prize sweeter. I had to work even harder to stand out from the team and be recognized by my coach. In the end, I knew I had worked hard; I earned my trophy. By the time the effort put in by my teammates really mattered, I was already signed up for competitive sports. With that in mind, if you care about your kids having a competitive spirit, there are options that involve rewarding only the winners.
So, yes, give the winners a trophy. Reward the winners for their hard work and dedication. But don’t forget the kids who took the time to work hard and be dedicated at home, during practice, and during the game. Teach your children to work hard and be dedicated at home, too. Reward them for good grades, and support them by cheering them on at their games. Life will give awards to people who deserve them, not just the people who come in first place.