5 Reasons To Give Out Participation Trophies
When was the last time Wikipedia insulted you?
For me, it was reading a little article about participation trophies.
“A participation trophy is a trophy given to children (usually) who participate in a sporting event but do not finish in first, second or third place, and so would not normally be eligible for a trophy. It is frequently associated with millennials, those of Generation Y.”
As a card-carrying millennial, I hadn’t realized that we were also the participation trophy generation. As the Huffington Post summarizes, this fun association comes from the idea that millennials are lazy and entitled because we grew up receiving trophies just for participating in sports, clubs, and other activities.
Though there was quite a bit of internet debate, Slate points out that we as a society have actually been giving out participation trophies for 100 years. The culprits? Everyone from military bases to soap box derbies.
Far from the greatest injustice ever assigned to a generation, participation trophies have and continue to serve a nice purpose.
How Participation Trophies Can Be A Good Reward
If you’re looking to boost morale around the office or feel better about the awards your kids are getting, read on.
A Reward Within Reach - One view of a participation trophy is that it’s “just” for participating. I prefer to think of it as participating all the way through. Just like we love our medals for finishing races, why shouldn’t we reward team members, family members, or kids for finishing something that they set out to do? As Squad Locker puts it, this kind of trophy recognizes the practice and sacrifice we’re putting in, even if we don’t ultimately win it all.
A Way To Remember The Moment - Does a trophy for participating disincentivize achievement? Or is it marking the achievement of seeing something through to its natural conclusion? By reframing how we talk about this trophy, it becomes a valuable keepsake.
Not Everything Has To Be About Winning - One frequent attack on participation trophies has been their normalizing of losing, with critics suggesting participation trophies make it okay to lose. What if that focus on winning is just as damaging? Entrepreneur frames it in terms of the office by suggesting “the more we focus on winning, the more stressful and less productive the environment becomes.”
Meaning Is What You Make It - One NFL player posted a few years about how he took his kids’ trophies away, saying that he didn’t believe in getting an award for doing your best if your best wasn’t enough. But is that what the award is for? There are other values you can instill when giving out the award, like cooperation, dedication, and sacrifice.
- The Team Over The Win - In the case of sports, less than 1% of high school athletes become professional athletes. I’d wager a far higher number go on to work in settings that involve teams. Sharing the award with others and prioritizing working in a team seem much more likely to have a long-term impact.
Overall, we deserve more credit than we give ourselves. Instead of denigrating trophies, why not celebrate them for what they are: charming achievements that mark important milestones in our lives?
That’s exactly what we had in mind when creating IRLAs, our In Real Life Achievements. From achieving goals like weight loss or your first marathon to adulting and being a millennial, we believe goals like these can inspire you to greater heights than a simple 1st place finish.