Youth sports

Should young athletes get 'participation trophies'?

Nov. 6, 2013 at 9:09 AM ET

Self-esteem boosters or motivation killers? Little trophies are under a big spotlight as parents and coaches wonder about the value of awarding young athletes just for showing up.

A youth football group in Keller, Texas, has announced it will no longer give out “participation trophies” for their players, sparking a passionate debate over the practice.

In a Facebook post last month, The Keller Youth Association said it will downsize to “participation medals” this year, but even those will go away in the future when only league champs get trophies.

“KYA Football board feels that giving participation medals or trophies isn't sending our children the right message. Trophies are something you should strive for and earn. Life does not give you a participation job or medal, life makes you earn everything you get,” the association wrote.

Here’s the full Facebook post:

Dozens of people weighed in, with many expressing support for the decision.

“You win some and you lose some and kids need to learn this lesson,” one commenter wrote.

“If everyone is special, then no one is. I commend you, in this day and age of erroneous attempts to be politically correct, for implementing logic and fairness and teaching them to our kids,” added another.

But some parents were angry.

“Absolutely the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard of. These kids work there tail off all year for (the) trophies,” a commenter wrote. “These kids need to be rewarded for finishing the season and not giving up on (their) team. These kids earn these trophies even if they don't win a single game.”

Others argued that participation trophies serve as a much-needed self-esteem booster and a source of pride for kids who are just starting sports.

But educational psychologist and TODAY contributor Michele Borba said she supports the Keller Youth Association’s decision, noting too many trophies awarded for just showing up minimize the "earned effort."

“Kids see through it, they know when they deserve the trophy, gold star and the red plate,” Borba said. “Those unearned accolades also make kids hooked on those rewards. There goes the internal motivation and the joy of doing your best. What's the point of effort? Everyone is going to get a trophy for just showing up and breathing.”

This is just the latest chapter in a long-simmering debate over participation trophies.

In September, an op-ed column in The New York Times, titled “Losing is Good For You,” argued “nonstop recognition” can cause children to underachieve.

Last year, TODAY Moms contributor Sarah Maizes wrote that her kids have shelves full of trophies for basketball, soccer and Tee-ball even though none of them has ever shown any real prowess in any of those sports.

“The cold, hard, gold-plated truth just might be that awards for worthy deeds actually encourage children -- and grown-ups -- to try harder, take pride in their own abilities, and do the right thing. And I don’t see how that can be wrong,” Maizes wrote.

What do you think? Let us know on the TODAY Moms Facebook page.

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