A participation trophy does not build mental toughness
Kids are not to blame. We are. We’ve become obsessed not with their own medals, but our own. We run a 5k and expect a medal. A coach even told me a runner who didn’t even run, wanted their finisher medal for a 5k!
Trophies don’t mean anything. Many Olympians have their Gold medals in a sock drawer. We are the one’s who give meaning to the trophy and what it represents.
Olympians didn’t participate for a medal, it was not the driver. They wanted to test themselves against the best. Their own mental toughness and talent are the reasons for their success.
When we give kids a participation trophy, it is more about the adults than it is the kids.
I doubt if even one kid ever began to play sports because they thought, “Hey, I get a trophy at the end.” They play for the fun, and the capri sun.
Awarding a participation trophy actually can do more harm than good.
We think that providing an external reward for hard work will build motivation, but the opposite may be the case. It may diminish their motivation. Is it a reason why 80% of kids stop playing by age 14? Not sure.
Yale researcher, Amy Wrzesniewski examined the motives of over 11,000 West Point cadets across the span of 14 years. They wanted to assess the impact of cadets “why” for entering the academy. Cadets that had internal motivators were more likely to graduate, receive promotions, commissions, and stay in the military. Cadets that entered with BOTH strong internal and external motivators (such as get a good job later in life) revealed drastically less success.
The external factors such as get a better job and make more money had a negative impact on overall success.
Think about it, we all have different internal motivators and are more likely to accomplish a task when we tap into our own “why” rather than a carrot or stick approach. (i.e., I find a wallet- I’ll return the wallet because it’s the right thing to do, rather than the possible reward I could get.)
Adults don’t need to give a participation trophy to kids, they just need praise their effort and allow them to have fun and also fail. We don’t make everyone a winner by making everyone not a loser. It may even create more losers.
Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. His company DRB & associates is based in Indianapolis. Some clients have included: University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. Check out the most recent book on Mental Toughness- Don’t Should on Your Kids: Build Their Mental Toughness