A new bill proposed in North Carolina has a bold legislative goal, one that could change your kid’s weekend soccer game forever. The new bill, if it became law, would get rid of participation trophies awarded to children playing sports. Really.
On March 30, 2023, Republican State Senator Timothy Moffitt introduced bill SB 430, otherwise known as “An Act to Prohibit Awards In Youth Recreation Activities of Local Governments Based Solely on Participation.” According to Vice News, the law seeks to ban participation-only trophies given to publicly funded youth recreation programs. So that little ribbon your kid gets at the end of his soccer season could be, well, cut from the team.
“Youth sports or other youth recreation activities operated under the authority of a local government shall not include awards for participants based solely on their participation in the sport or other activity,” the bill states. “Awards provided in connection with the activity, if any, shall be based on identified performance achievements.”
The bill has been co-sponsored by two additional Republican Senators, Eddie Settle, and Bobby Hanig. However, the bill doesn’t go into more detail on what age range is “youth” when it comes to its proposed law, nor does it solve a particularly new problem — no matter how much hemming and hawing we might hear from politicians (or comedians) about the scourge of participation trophies making our kids “soft.”
After all, according to VICE News, participation trophies aren’t anything new. As far back as 1922, they were something that people scoffed at. One Ohio newspaper ran an op-ed 100 years ago criticizing the distribution of trophies to all participants of a high school basketball tournament regardless of their performance.
Men’s Health also reported that though the trophies were already in use for decades, the awards really “picked up steam during the 1950s and 1970s” right around the time “self-esteem and self-worth became popularized” over winning games. As youth sports expanded with more recreational play and less professional-track athleticism, trophies that rewarded kids for simply playing became more popular.
The thing is, they work — if you look at how the awards reward effort and how they reward the ability to grow skills. That’s at least the argument from many established developmental psychologists. It’s no small piece of the debate that is much harder to get angry about. Kids whose efforts are rewarded don’t learn that the reward is the end but learn that the effort is rewarding — and improvement is possible.
Instead, so much of the current debate focuses on the problems with merit — rewarding performance — rather than on rewarding the effort. And this is where the subject of heated debate remains stuck. Instead of focusing on self-esteem, many see the trophies in a completely negative light, as hindrances on performance.
Those who are “against” them argue that the awards give kids a sense of entitlement and that they will backfire, which could “cause kids not try as hard because they will come to expect an award no matter what they do,” K2 Awards says.
But no matter how people feel about the chintzy, plastic medals, frayed ribbons, or little trophies that kids might get at the end of a successful season of YMCA baseball, whether you think they help kids understand that the process of playing is just as important as winning, or that they set kids up to a lifetime of failure and entitlement, one thing is certainly true. No one has ever said the scourge of these trophies is such a serious problem that the government ought to step in and regulate them out of existence. And yet here we are.