In Defense of Participation Trophies

Yes, I’ll take that participation trophy please!

My son played soccer for the first time this season and we just got back from the end of year party where they gave out trophies to all the kids who played this year. That’s right, the dreaded PARTICIPATION TROPHY, that has been basically maligned as a cultural quirk of the entitlement generation.

My son is not a good soccer player. I can say that because I’m his mom. He freezes up on the field, he backs off when he should be hustling, and he spaces out and starts chatting with his friends when the ball is on the other side of the field. He doesn't quite understand all the rules. All of this is fine, because he’s seven.

But damn, my son participated. Participation IS something we should encourage, and even celebrate. It means showing up to every practice, even when you don’t feel like it. It means playing every game, even when you are not the best player. It means celebrating with everyone when you win, and consoling each other when you don’t. It means saying “good game” to the other team. It means honoring your commitment. It means learning how to be a team. Those are messages I definitely want my kids to get.

You know what else? It’s okay not to be the best at something. It’s okay to not get the trophy, but it’s also okay to acknowledge the little accomplishments, like playing goalie even though you’re scared.

Participation is a value. How might society be better if more people participated in elections, in civic discourse, in community service? Be there. Show up. Participate. Be a part of your community.

No, we don’t get participation trophies in real life, but isn’t it nice when someone acknowledges us for those small efforts? How wonderful to have someone express their gratitude, or joy at our mere presence. Adults, let’s get real,  most of us will never be the best at anything. There is always someone doing more, living better, looking prettier. But most of us are not assholes either. We show up to work, we take care of our kids, we volunteer to coach soccer. We don’t get trophies for that stuff, but maybe we should.

Life will teach my kid some flat-on-your face, hard lessons. He will fail. He will not be the best. He will try hard at something and not get the trophy. Remember, (most) adults don’t get trophies. Am I setting him up for a big reality check? Is that more cruel? Maybe if it continued on past middle school, but honestly, my son has already experienced lots of little disappointments in his life. He knows that the world is not fair, that it does not cater to his every whim, that sometimes you have to do things you don’t like. And as he get’s older, there will only be more where that came from.

So, yes, I am perfectly fine with letting him have a participation trophy at seven. I am happy to let him feel joy in such a small thing. I am happy to teach him that showing up is important and worthy of recognition.

You can disagree with me. I have heard many reasonable arguments that fall on the other side of the issue, but in my opinion, there are a lot more important things to worry about. I’m not here to judge anyone who thinks differently and is consciously choosing to raise their kid a certain way, but when I hear things like, “this is what’s wrong with this generation…” I mean, please, there are 99 ways to screw up your kid for life, and participation trophies aren’t one. Participation trophies do not breed entitlement. Entitlement comes from a lack of gratitude. My son who showed up to all the games, and had fun even when they didn’t win, and who played even though he was not the best, he was sure grateful for that trophy.

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