Participation Trophies


In the small town that I grew up in, little league baseball was pretty much the only option for athletics until around age twelve.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t exactly a baseball prodigy. I spent my first two or three years deep in right field, hoping the ball wouldn’t be hit my way. I’m not sure if there is a written record of the most strike outs in league history, but if there is, there is a better than even chance that my name is on it.

It never stopped me from getting back out there. I enjoyed the game, the camaraderie, and the challenge of improving. Every year I received a trophy for participation, and I displayed them proudly. I wasn’t playing well, but dammit I was out there playing.

By age ten or so I starting smacking doubles pretty consistently and found that I had a knack for pitching. If not a knack, exactly, than a quick release, a sidearm delivery and a penchant for wildness that combined to confuse and intimidate hitters. I even made an all-star team, though I missed the game due to a bad case of poison ivy. In those days I found a way to nerd up even the most un-nerdy of activities.


me bball


Somewhere around twelve years old the trophies stop coming just for showing up. There are try outs, travel teams for the more talented players, and increased levels of competition. This is when I called it a career.

To the teenager’s credit, she continues to play soccer, now in a relaxed atmosphere co-ed spring league. She’s no longer the star that she was when she was younger, but it’s good exercise and she enjoys playing. There are no trophies, nor is she looking for one.

Her little sister seems to be following in her footsteps. This weekend she started her third session of soccer lessons and loves every minute of it. She works hard, listens to her coaches, and practices at home. It’s been really fun to watch. At the end she’ll receive a little plastic medal and will be thrilled. It will sit on her dresser as a testament not only to her participation, but to her effort. She’ll have not played anything remotely competitive yet, but she’ll have another “trophy.” And I’m OK with that.




Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison made headlines last month for returning his two son’s participation trophies, saying that “everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best.”

I’ve also been known to rant against the entitlement culture that children of today are growing up in. There is an entire generation unprepared for the real world because they never had to earn or work hard for anything. The desire to encourage self esteem has also managed to stifle the competitive spirit needed to get ahead in life. When I first heard this story I thought it might be the first time in James Harrison’s thirteen year career that I agreed with something that came out of his loud mouth.

But then I saw that the boys in question were six and eight years old and I went back to thinking he was just a tool.

There does come a time when we need to stop coddling our children. They do need to understand and accept that there are going to be times when their best isn’t going to be good enough. Other times when it’s only with hard work and sacrifice that they are going to be rewarded.

There are also going to be times when effort and participation should be enough. Times when getting active and learning a game should be the primary goal. I’ll do my best to prepare my daughter for the competitive world in her future, but for now I’m content to let her have fun. I didn’t turn out to be the next Roger Clemons. She may not be the next Carli Lloyd.

She also might be. I’m not planning on spoiling that dream anytime soon.





18 thoughts on “Participation Trophies”

  1. I agree with you 100%! Younger kids need to enjoy learning to play the game the right way and to learn what good sportsmanship is and if receiving a small trophy is what it takes to keep them active and involved then I am all for it. There is a natural progression from being coddled to learning that you will not be good at everything in life or even if you excel at something you will not win 100% of the time.

  2. That’s such a disappointing thing for a professional sports player to say. It plays into the behaviour of all those parents who approach junior sport as if it was sport played by smaller adults.
    I notice you say you gave up baseball at about 12 when things started to get more competitive and selective. So many kids do the same. What a shame our sports can’t continue to be organised for teenagers who just want to play a game, as well as those who are ready to play competitively.
    Hope your kids carry on with football (or should I say, soccer).

    1. Girls and making money also started to become bigger priorities around that time. I did play a lot of unorganized weekend sports throughout my teen years. There seems to be more options available in bigger towns.

  3. I, too, totally and utterly agree with you. When I was a child I never used to get a prize just for ‘showing up’. It also means that then they don’t understand what a reward is! I think it is best to ease them in gently. Gradually, I lessened rewards for Grace as she grew and now she appreciates them when she does get them! A great subject. Thanks for linking to #PoCoLo

  4. I agree! Let little kids be little kids. I don’t know exactly when the participation trophies should go away but I don’t think that we need to promote more cut throat into our culture… we need more collaboration and happier kids/people. I won’t mind when my toddler gets a few trophies just for showing up. He’ll know he isn’t going to be a professional athlete early enough. 🙂


  5. I totally agree. I had exactly the same reaction as you when I got to the part about James Harrison. I was nodding along and then I got to the part where you said his children are 6 and 8, and I just thought “what?!” At that age, turning up regularly to play IS an achievement. Obviously, as they get older they need to learn that turning up isn’t enough, but at that age, it really is!
    Thanks for linking up to #AnythingGoes

  6. I agree with you 100%!!!! SJ has gotten ribbons for participating in sports when the season is over which I have no problem with because she is 5. I think that it is my job as a parent to prepare my kids to be ready for they day that they have to work hard and earn what they get. Thanks for sharing! #anythinggoes

  7. I totally agree. Children should enjoy the fun of it. It’s hard enough in a cut throat world. Thanks for linking up with us on the #bigfatlinky hope to see you there this week

  8. I agree that sport should be celebrated. I also think that there should be awards for those that try hard and those that win. I don’t like it when the total competitiveness is taken away like at my boys sports day. It’s good to learn to be competitive and should be done in a supportive atmosphere. Thanks for linking to #PickNMix

  9. I very much agree with you. Children need to learn that they don’t receive things for nothing–but at that age, sometimes just getting on the field is an accomplishment. Learning should be rewarded. Especially in our culture today when many kids would rather be sitting in front of a computer screen than playing outside…but that’s a whole other topic. Thanks for the post! I’m glad I found you on the Busy Doing Life link-up.

  10. What a fantastic post! You are so right! There is a time and a place for children to man up and realise the world doesn’t owe them something but it certainly isn’t when they are 6!! I love that children are encouraged with trophies for participation, it makes a little special moment for them to remember and hopefully encourages them that they are valued a part of the team! Thankyou so much for sharing this with me on #busydoinglife II really enjoyed reading it!

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