Should Kids Get Trophies for Participation?

I know I’m going to get some flack for this, but I strongly believe that youth sports programs should give kids trophies just for completing a season.

Yes, I’ve heard all of the arguments a thousand times as to why we shouldn’t, such as the idea that we are somehow teaching that everyone is the same.

However, through third grade, participation trophies are entirely appropriate and even beneficial.

sporty family

Past that age, you’re not helping the kids. But athletes in third grade and younger need the encouragement.

Listen all you competitive parents and coaches. I am well aware of the fact that it’s a very competitive world out there, and we need to prepare our kids for it. I have worked in an extremely competitive business world as a corporate manager for a Fortune 500 company, and I have run my own business for over a decade now, in addition to all of the work I’ve done in the sports world.

But we’re talking about the minds of an eight year olds. The truth is, they don’t have the comprehension or identity structure to even understand the real-world ramifications of competition. Some coaches are just throwing young athletes to the wolves.

Consider these analogies:

  • You don’t start learning math with algebra. You learn one apple and another apple equals two apples.
  • You don’t start learning how to read by diving into novels. You start with the ABCs.
  • Nobody begins a first piano lesson with a concerto. You start with twinkle twinkle.

Are you getting the picture? If the whole point to having our kids play sports is to learn life skills (and it should be the whole point), then the first thing young kids need to learn is commitment and not giving up when things get tough.

That’s the purpose behind giving a trophy for finishing the season. This is a simple concept, and you can teach it verbally to children day and night and they still might not get it. But put kids in a program (sports or otherwise) and have them go through the typical trials and tribulations and stick it out. Then recognize them for that achievement.

Yes, competitive parents, that is a grand achievement for a young athlete. Leave your desire for your seven year old to win the championship at home; There’s plenty of time for him or her to learn skills, discipline and other more mature lessons from sports.

Kids at this age can understand commitment and create a very powerful belief that lasts them the rest of their lives—but only if this is done right. Their first trophy on their dresser is a strong reinforcement of this learning.

No, don’t give the kid a trophy if he doesn’t finish the season. No, don’t continue giving participation trophies past third grade. Yes, parents should praise their young athletes for finishing the season. Make sure they understand what the trophy is for.

Commitment and completion are valuable life skills by themselves. Having fun and getting exercise and attention from parents is all icing on the cake. Everything else can wait until they are older.

Craig Sigl’s work with youth athletes has been featured on NBC TV and ESPN. Get his free ebook: “The 10 Commandments For a Great Sports Parent” and also a free training and .mp3 guided visualization to help young athletes perform under pressure by visiting his website.

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