Participation trophies detrimental to

Children use rewards for participation as a reason to perform

Callie Hawkins

all Break. Without fail, every year, it is time to clean around the house. Since the start of school, everyone in the house has gotten lazy, and with two days off of school with not much else to do, we are put to work. I am not going to lie; my senioritis has set in more at home than it has at school. Clothes are in piles everywhere, different items are thrown about my room and  my car is full of junk…Finally, my mom had had enough.

So I got to cleaning that Friday morning, getting my hands dirty, filling bags upon bags with trash. When I got to my desk, however, I paused. Eight different trophies filled the top two shelves. I read each plaque of the figurines playing their respective sport, and they span from the years 2009-2015. Five from soccer, two from basketball and one from softball. I do not even remember playing softball. I remembered there were more and so, I climbed up to the top shelf of my closet and saw two 2-feet-tall soccer trophies from 2017 when I played at a higher level.

There has long been a debate about whether or not all kids should receive trophies just for participation. Some argue that trophies act as extrinsic motivation for children — the desire to perform an action only to receive an award or avoid punishment. I would have to say that, as much of a sentiment as the trophies I kept hold in my heart, trophies and rewards for participation are detrimental to a child’s development of character and are unnecessary. Using softball as an example, did I just do it for the reward? Maybe I played for fun or did it for the company, but sticking with it was probably because of that trophy at the end of the season. Children use trophies and rewards in sports and other activities as an excuse to perform, or at the very least, participate.

When I saw my old trophies that morning, I was taken back to a time in my life with carelessness and happiness and laughter.

Callie Hawkins

Motivation is intrinsic. Many of my teammates and I when we were younger, had this motivation for the sports we played. As an extrinsic motivator for some, even if they originally had that motivation, the trophy they received acted as a ticket out and caused them to lose interest.

One of the most famous studies of intrinsic motivation was performed by Mark Lepper and David Greene at Stanford University in 1973. It was not based on sports and trophies, but the motivation of drawing in children ages 3 and 4. These children were randomly placed in three groups: expected reward, when children were told ahead of time that they were to receive a gold seal and ribbon if they took part; surprise reward, when children would receive the same reward but didn’t know about it beforehand; and no reward, when children were not expecting nor receiving an award whether they participated or not. The results showed that the children in the expected reward group drew for a far less amount of time than those not expecting.

According to an article from Physical and Health Education America in 2021 by Jordan Roos and Brad Strand, many believe that the trophies act as an incentive (or extrinsic motivator) for children to show up to games, but this led them to not being able to receive criticism later on. Roos and Strand concluded that receiving participation trophies can lead to laziness and dependency, and I would have to agree. This is reinforced by the drawing study at Stanford.

In a poll of 160 high school students and staff, 114 people received trophies when they played sports as a child and out of them, 70 believed they had an impact on whether they continued the sport or not in the future. One hundred twenty three of these continued with their sport, and 33 did not.

When I saw my old trophies that morning, I was taken back to a time in my life with carelessness and happiness and laughter. Now that I look back on it, as excited I was to get my trophy after the last game of the season with all my friends eating celebratory snacks and drinking our Capri-Suns, I did not play a sport for the reward at the end for the sports I truly loved. As I continued to play soccer and lacrosse into my middle school and high school years, when we no longer received those rewards at the end of the season, I observed people slowly trickle out because of the lack of true passion for different sports. Trophies, as sentimental as the memories can be, are detrimental to child development because of the laziness and false confidence they foster.

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