A personal opinion in favor of the trophy culture system of rewarding children regardless of performance Essay
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Should kids receive an award just for participating? This question has become one of great debate in recent years following the rise of “Trophy Culture”, a system where children receive awards regardless of performance and get applauded for simply showing up. Many parents argue that giving children awards even if they do not perform well promotes entitlement and teaches them to not try. My thoughts on the matter were a little mixed before I did any research on the subject. As someone who has participated in track and cross-country for years, I have been a witness to Trophy Culture in many of the races I’ve competed in.
When I was a beginner runner, I rarely if ever placed in races, and was often still given a medal just for completing the course. Anyone who has taken part in a large-scale public race like “Race for the Cure” or the “Disneyland Marathon” knows what I am talking about, basically if you get across the finish line even if you’re hours behind the first place runner there will still be someone there putting a medal around your neck at the end. When I was younger and slower, getting that medal was extremely exciting because I felt like even finishing 3 miles of running as an overweight 7th grader was a big accomplishment. And the girls who finished in the top 20 of the races typically got another medal on top of the participation one, meaning I still had something to strive towards, so lack of motivation was not a problem. And as I’ve grown and improved in my running skills, the Trophy Culture that is extremely prevalent in the sport of running still does not bother me. I could argue that getting up at 6:00 AM every morning over the summer and training my hardest, only to win a half marathon then get the exact same medal as the woman who finished last almost 2 hours after I am disheartening. However, I believe that the “trophies” we get for accomplishing things like this are essentially meaningless, and the true reward is the feeling of triumph one gets when finishing something truly challenging.
This feeling relates to the existence of “self-esteem”, or one’s overall evaluation of their worth as a person. Doing a difficult task well like performing excellently in a soccer game or acing a test are ways we can improve our self-esteem and feel better about ourselves. This plays into our sense of self-efficacy, our belief inability to perform and succeed in tasks presented to us. Some parents think that trophy culture is artificially inflating their children’s self-esteem and self-efficacy, making children think they are performing better than they actually are and allowing for them to almost “get stuck” in a mediocre performance because they have no reason to believe their performance is less than ideal. On the other side of the argument, there are parents who think that if we award children for completing sports seasons or specific events, we are teaching them “that it is worth keeping a commitment, that we value this” (Heffernan, 2015).
A recent report from Real Sports With Bryant Gumble on HBO explored this problem. In the trailer for the show, he is seen interviewing a woman who says that giving trophies to everyone regardless of performance “sets the bar pretty low”, and she also makes the argument that she “wants kids to improve and be engaged in the process of improvement”, and she thinks without incentive this will never happen. This perspective on the topic is one that made headline news when NFL linebacker James Harrison “took to Instagram announcing he would be sending back the trophies his sons, 6 and 8, received ‘until they earn a real trophy’”(Wallace, 2015). In an article analyzing the different sides of the debate, Kelly Wallace from CNN points out that many experts side with those saying, “if you tell a kid they’re wonderful and they believe you, that’s not about healthy self-esteem, that’s about narcissism”.
Lisa Heffernan, a contributor to NBC News TODAY, disagrees with this mindset. According to her, participation trophies “remind kids that they are part of something, and may help build enthusiasm to return for another season”. Another point she brings up is that “at a time when parents complain of escalating competition in youth sports, [trophies] remind kids that we value their effort, regardless of ability or results”. Her words echo those of a writer by the name of John Kass, whose article in the Chicago Tribune includes a segment from his son who claims “What’s wrong with a participation trophy for kids? It makes them happy. They’re just 6 years old. Isn’t it good to be a kid, and happy, playing the game? They’re just kids.” Kass then goes on to explain that this conversation with his son made him realize participation trophies aren’t as bad as some people want us to believe, and “getting a participation trophy as a child didn’t make [his son] any less competitive”.
After reading articles with opinions from both sides of the argument, I have come to the conclusion that my initial view of the topic has not changed: I still believe that Trophy Culture is not detrimental to the development of children’s self-esteem and people fighting to end a system that allows awards for participation are wasting their time. Children need encouragement and support from their parent’s, coaches, and others to succeed and stay motivated in everything from sports to academics. Trying to get rid of participation awards could very likely result in discouraged children. Like John Kass’s son said in his discussion with his father, “What’s wrong with a participation trophy for kids? It makes them happy.” If giving participation trophies make kids happy and doesn’t harm anyone else, then the clear choice is to allow participation awards to continue in our society.
Heffernan, Lisa. “In Defense of Participation Trophies: What They
Taught My Son.” TODAY.com. N.p., 21 Aug. 2015. Web. 29
Kass, John. “Is Our ‘Trophy Culture’ Making Happy Losers?”
Chicagotribune.com. Chicago Tribune, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2016.
Wallace, Kelly. “Debate: Does Sports Participation Deserve a
Trophy?” CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2016.