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Are participation trophies a bad idea for kids?
This is an oddly controversial issue. I’m not sure there is a parenting issue that non-parents feel more passionately about and parents I know care so little about than this one.
I’ve only coached 6-7 year-olds and therefore may change my mind when my kids get older, but I truly cannot find any merit in the anti-participation-trophy line of argumentation.
The most common arguments against participation trophies generally fall within two categories: 1. They undermine the value of sports in various ways and 2. Create a generation of sissies, especially among boys.
To advocates of the former I ask: who are all of these kids signing up for weekly practices and games for 3 months just to get a shiny piece of cheap plastic at season’s end? Where are these kids that say, “Mom, Dad, I don’t like baseball and I could not care less about learning the fundamentals of the game, the importance of teamwork, sportsmanship, and healthy competition, or making new friends, but I will continue attending practice every Tuesday and Thursday and playing games every Saturday morning for the next 12 weeks because I really want a trophy for my bookshelf.” The idea that participation trophies confuse kids about the benefits of sports is a quintessential straw-man.
To supporters of the latter, I get it, masculinity is always in crisis, blah blah blah … Every generation since at least the turn of the Twentieth Century has had its own list of reasons why and how men were supposedly becoming feminized and it’s all bogus. I say save it, Teddy Roosevelt!
In a few more years I’ll probably think my oldest child will be too old for participation trophies. I’m also pretty sure that by then she’ll have no interest in receiving one; she hardly cares about the one she got last season! But for now, I fully intend to reward all of the kids I coach for showing up, taking instruction, improving their skills, and being a good teammate with a participation trophy.
Justin Gomer is a lecturer for American Studies at UC Berkeley. His writing has been published by Sporting News and The Huffington Post. You can find more Quora posts here: