Let’s Talk: Debating “Trophy Kids” and Participation Awards

Much has been written about the “entitlement generation” and how Millenial students are accustomed to receiving rewards for accomplishing everyday tasks.  Working for an awards company, I have often engaged in conversation with customers that covers both sides of the argument.  Some parents exclaim, “When I was young, I had to work hard for my trophies.  They weren’t just given out to everyone.”  Others are thrilled that we offer stock ribbons with Participant or “Everyone is a Winner” designs so that children build confidence and have a memento of their event.

In recent years, the “anti-award” side of the argument has caught on more in the press as the “trophy kids” have grown up. Critics claim that participation awards and “a trophy for everyone” has raised a generation that expects a reward for mediocrity.

Certainly we do see orders where, for example, everyone at a swim meet gets a ribbon up to 30th place.  While we understand the purpose behind awarding ribbons to (nearly) all the participants, we are not blind to the fact that the swimmers receiving our 27th place ribbon probably won’t treasure it the way they would a first place ribbon.

Then again, just because a team in a rec league doesn’t make it to the Championship game doesn’t mean that that particular season wasn’t a great learning experience or great source of memories.  A small award for those team members may be just as valuable as a winner’s medal, just for different reasons. 

So here’s the part where we encourage some lively conversation.  Have you awarded trophies or ribbons for participation?  Did you feel it was the right thing to do or were they just to stop the tears?   Do you think you value awards you received as a child more than today’s kids do?  Share your opinion in the comments.

One thought on “Let’s Talk: Debating “Trophy Kids” and Participation Awards

  1. I offer a number of “Education By Entertainment” programs for students from middle school to graduate school and to professionals. A substantial part of my program involves individual activities, group activities as well as “on stage activities.”

    When I first began to offer these programs I did not offer any gifts or prizes. An adult audience of Information Technology (IT) professionals (perhaps 10 to 20 years ago, I don’t have the date easily accessible) indicated on their program evaluations that they liked the program, but wanted (perhaps, expected) prizes if they were to be “on stage” participants. After that I began to offer prizes. What I offer has evolved through the years.

    Today, in my full length programs towards the end of the program I have the audience vote for either the “Hardest Working Volunteer” and/or “The Champion.” The winner of this election receives a special prize such as a stuffed bear with your awesome ribbon attached and/or a small trophy with the name of the program and the word Champion. I posted a photo of one of my event champions (a college student) with stuffed bear and ribbon) on your FaceBook website a while ago. Sometimes I also award Semi-Finalist trophies. I also award Awesome ribbons during the presentation when someone does an outstanding job or contributes an outstanding effort in one or more of the activities.

    I also try to have one or more gift items for everyone to take home. I hope that these will serve as a reminder of the program and that the attendees will think about the program and the concepts taught when they see or use the gift items. Gift items range from a post card with an activity on it (such as the Stroop Color Word Activity) to more substantial items depending upon the event, budget, etc. At those events where I offer an assortment of gift items, the Champion gets to select first, the semifinalists (in random order, second) and everyone else (in random order) third.
    Photo albums of my programs including prize tables may be found on SlideShare ( http://www.slideshare.net/DrRonShapiro )

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