Trophy backlash: Are we rewarding kids for just showing up?

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Did he win the championship, or ride the bench? Some parents think we're overdosing on trophies.

This Friday, 14,000 athletes from 204 countries around the world will gather in London for the opening of the Olympic Games.  Imagine their excitement as each of these athletes prepares to compete. 

Now imagine each and every one receiving a gold medal – just for “showing up.” 

Sounds stupid, right?  After all, that’s not what sports are about.  In sports, somebody wins - somebody loses.  Somebody gets a gold medal and somebody goes home empty handed.  That’s sports.  That’s life.

So tell me, why do we feel the need to award every kid a trophy for every sport they play? 

There are few debates in parenthood – with the exception of breast-feeding – that are as heated as that over whether every kid should get a trophy. But there may be a trophy backlash brewing. 

My kids have shelves full of trophies for basketball, soccer and Tee-ball despite the fact that none of them have ever shown any real prowess in any of those sports.  My oldest daughter even has a bowling trophy that praises her for coming in “2nd place for most spares.”  No joke. 

Sure, trophies are fun to collect.  So were Wacky Packs. But once those trophies come home, their value diminishes rapidly from a symbol of accomplishment to, well, that of an old crayoned kid’s menu.

I say “enough already!”

I can see the value of giving a kid a pat on the head when they’ve accomplished something.  But shouldn’t those shiny, gold statues and medals be reserved for real accomplishments? Shouldn't they be a token of acknowledgement for a marked effort, a honed skill, or even good ol’ sportsmanship – not just for showing up? 

Let's start with this list of "accomplishments,” and see if we can agree which are deserving of a trophy versus a “Pat on the Head.” 

Winning a baseball tournament = Trophy

Eating all their dinner = POH

Exhibiting real, true "Good Sportsmanship" for an entire season = Trophy

Napping = POH

Making the most baskets in a season = Trophy

Wiping themselves = POH (Maybe an extra hair tousle for washing hands.)

It occurred to me I might be bitter because I never got any trophies, so I interviewed the experts: a bunch of eight-year-olds.  I asked them, “Do you think everybody should get a trophy?”

One kid said “Yeah.  It’s nice.  Then nobody is left out.”

Fair enough.

But another kid disagreed.  And she was angry. “I don’t think it’s fair that everyone gets a trophy when you tried really hard and somebody else gets one who didn’t do anything.  Like, there was this kid on my basketball team and he never went to practice.  He got a trophy.  And it wasn’t fair.”

There were nods of agreement and “Yeah! No fair!” followed by someone yelling “Ice cream truck!” and that was the end of my study.

But I felt vindicated.

Everybody wants their kids to be happy. We all want them to grow-up well-adjusted, fair-minded and confident.  But 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.

Sarah Maizes is an author, blogger, comedian, speaker, and founder of, a parenting humor website.  Her first children’s book, On My Way to the Bath was just published by Walker Books.  You get more of Sarah’s parental musings, unsolicited advice on Facebook  and follow her random tweets of kindness on Twitter

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