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drawkcabi

Participation Trophies Are A Good Thing

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This has been bothering me more and more whenever I see people complain about the younger generation.

"Entitlement...blah blah blah...special snowflake...blah blah blah..."

and then a derisive comment on how they get trophies just for showing up.

Now we can talk about the entitlement and "can do no wrong" attitudes or whatever that's pervasive in today's child rearing society and I think there are some legitimate arguments.

But the participation trophy complaint always irks me.

I think they are really good things and something that benefits children as they grow up.

With one very, very, important caveat.

The winner still gets the best and biggest trophy or prize.

With the way things are going today along with just how we recognize more issues more and more children are having anxiety disorders, social phobias, general stress, as well as children with disabilities from autism or Asperger's and things like that.

Just getting out and playing soccer or little league or ballet, etc. is an achievement, a great achievement for some. At the end of the season or after a recital everyone should get a trophy or ribbon or some recognition just for showing up because that is an accomplishment. Getting out there in the world and participating in things is a positive behavior and should be encouraged! 

But then it is also important for the winner to get the best reward, because it is important to teach children that the more effort you put in, the more dedicated you are, the bigger the return on what you get out of it. That's the way the world works and they shouldn't be denied learning that.

So just some rambling thoughts I've been having. Having no children of my own I understand I could be talking completely out of my ass, but I still have a viewpoint on things. I've never liked parents that never comfort their kids when life gives them a harsh reality but I'm not fond of coddling either. I think children need to learn harsh realities and lessons about the world at appropriate ages but also I think it's good if they  know that no matter how beat up they may get out in the world, home is one place they can find safety and security.

Life isn't fair. That's an axiom.

However, I don't see it as an excuse, but instead, a challenge.

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Totally agree.  I remember having field day when I was a kid and was disappointed when I didn't get 1st in any of the events I participated in.  Some kids had a whole handful of 7th and 8th place ribbons.  The next year they had a 'team' event which basically meant everyone got at least one 1st place ribbon.  It wasn't much, but as someone who was/is super competitive, it felt good having at least one 1st place ribbon amongst all my others; event while knowing that they were just participation ribbons.  Participation trophies are great.

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It's a two-edged sword. On the one hand, you're right in that these trophies encourage children to participate, but on the other, they're inconsistent with the way adult life works. In every competition that matters (universities, jobs, financial awards such as scholarships, etc.), there are people who walk away with nothing. When applying for a job, the second best candidate doesn't get a job with a slightly smaller salary. Failure is important: it encourages people to work harder so as to do better at the next contest and also serves as an indicator of the fact that certain contests are simply not for certain people and the latter are better off working on something else.

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6 minutes ago, Altherion said:

It's a two-edged sword. On the one hand, you're right in that these trophies encourage children to participate, but on the other, they're inconsistent with the way adult life works. In every competition that matters (universities, jobs, financial awards such as scholarships, etc.), there are people who walk away with nothing. When applying for a job, the second best candidate doesn't get a job with a slightly smaller salary. Failure is important: it encourages people to work harder so as to do better at the next contest and also serves as an indicator of the fact that certain contests are simply not for certain people and the latter are better off working on something else.

Adult life is very rarely about competition, and even in your examples the amount you participate is about participation.  University & scholarships care about scores, but also about your extra curriculars, your volunteer work.... your participation in society.  Job interviews are about how you get along with people, how you communicate, how you participate in a team.

Failure is eminent and participation trophies will never protect children from them.  But we should absolutely celebrate trying new things, meeting new people, getting out of the house, and participating in society.  There's no double edged sword, there's just people who don't put enough value on those types of things and see the world through a weird me vs the world lens.

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Hum, depends how you look at it I guess. At University it's more than the top three students that graduate. So in that sense even a 7th or 8th place ribbon is a very worthy achievement, which should lead you to a good job and salary. Of course if you regard anything below a tenured position at Havard as a failure, that is entirely up to you I guess.

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1 hour ago, Altherion said:

It's a two-edged sword. On the one hand, you're right in that these trophies encourage children to participate, but on the other, they're inconsistent with the way adult life works. In every competition that matters (universities, jobs, financial awards such as scholarships, etc.), there are people who walk away with nothing. When applying for a job, the second best candidate doesn't get a job with a slightly smaller salary. Failure is important: it encourages people to work harder so as to do better at the next contest and also serves as an indicator of the fact that certain contests are simply not for certain people and the latter are better off working on something else.

Yeah but if they get the job and show up for it on time and are a reliable employee they get a steady paycheck: Participation trophy.

If they put in extra effort, be the best they can be, they may end up with employee of the month, a bonus, raise or promotion: Winner trophy

If they don't end up with the job then they leave with nothing except the experience trying. That's fine to wait until you're an adult to learn that because if you were raised right and as a kid positively encouraged with participation trophies, you'll have a good attitude and less anxiety about continuing to put yourself out there and keep at it. If you learn the lesson of ending up with nothing too young, maybe it can have an effect on a kid of learning the bad habit of being unmotivated.

I'd rather someone have to face that lesson as a young adult entering the job market than as a kid. If it's a set back for you you can deal with it and keep feeling motivated about getting out there. If you throw a huge tantrum or feel you were stolen of an entitlement then you may have bigger issues to deal with.

16 minutes ago, Erik of Hazelfield said:

“I finished dead last but that’s just as good as first place because we both got medals” said no kid ever.

Agreed. And as Starkess has pointed out, a kid with participation trophies and/or ribbons can have them as keepsakes and look on them with fondness as physical reminders of something they were part of and the good memories they bring.

"I may not have won the medal, but I have this ribbon to remind me of the good times I had and the good friends I had them with." probably has been said if not in those exact words.

Edited by drawkcabi
grammar

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I agree on encouraging participation being a good thing. If there’s one lesson our kids need to learn it’s that the surest way to fail is not to try.

Entitlement is interesting as a broader topic. Is it a big problem? How does it manifest? I’ve always had the feeling that complaining about entitled millennials sounds like an old grumpy get-off-my-lawn rant, but is there something to it?

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2 hours ago, Altherion said:

It's a two-edged sword. On the one hand, you're right in that these trophies encourage children to participate, but on the other, they're inconsistent with the way adult life works.

Yeah, but even if only the winner gets something, that's also inconsistent with the way the adult world works. It's not like real world jobs involve fair and open competition between informed individuals who know all of the rules, wherein the objectively most skilled person can be expected to consistently come out ahead. If anything, giving out achievement medals to kids is teaching them the unrealistic lesson that they can expect a reward just for working hard. To truly prepare children for adult life, we need to add some sort of mechanism to school sports days by which luck, nepotism and casual subconscious prejudice are also factored into the medal-giving.

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2 hours ago, aceluby said:

Adult life is very rarely about competition, and even in your examples the amount you participate is about participation.  University & scholarships care about scores, but also about your extra curriculars, your volunteer work.... your participation in society.  Job interviews are about how you get along with people, how you communicate, how you participate in a team.

On the contrary, adult life is very much about competition. You are right in that the criteria for winning are almost never as clear-cut as in the contests of children, but nevertheless, a fraction of applicants will get into a university and the rest will not, a single candidate will get the job and the rest will not, etc. In fact, as inequality increases and the middle class shrinks, the competition will get more and more intense.

1 hour ago, drawkcabi said:

Yeah but if they get the job and show up for it on time and are a reliable employee they get a steady paycheck: Participation trophy.

Don't bet money on the "steady" part -- this is the kind of person that gets laid off during an economic downturn or when the company decides to outsource the work.

1 hour ago, drawkcabi said:

If they don't end up with the job then they leave with nothing except the experience trying. That's fine to wait until you're an adult to learn that because if you were raised right and as a kid positively encouraged with participation trophies, you'll have a good attitude and less anxiety about continuing to put yourself out there and keep at it. If you learn the lesson of ending up with nothing too young, maybe it can have an effect on a kid of learning the bad habit of being unmotivated.

I disagree: as long as it is properly explained, the failure itself serves as motivation. If I walk away with nothing, it motivates me to either understand what I did poorly and how I can do it better or, if it's clear that this hopeless, to go do something I'm better at.

Don't get me wrong: I don't think participation trophies are doing some great harm and I grew up as they were becoming commonplace so I have a few of them, but I think the lesson regarding competition is best learned sooner rather than later.

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3 hours ago, Altherion said:

On the contrary, adult life is very much about competition. You are right in that the criteria for winning are almost never as clear-cut as in the contests of children, but nevertheless, a fraction of applicants will get into a university and the rest will not, a single candidate will get the job and the rest will not, etc. In fact, as inequality increases and the middle class shrinks, the competition will get more and more intense.

Don't bet money on the "steady" part -- this is the kind of person that gets laid off during an economic downturn or when the company decides to outsource the work.

I disagree: as long as it is properly explained, the failure itself serves as motivation. If I walk away with nothing, it motivates me to either understand what I did poorly and how I can do it better or, if it's clear that this hopeless, to go do something I'm better at.

Don't get me wrong: I don't think participation trophies are doing some great harm and I grew up as they were becoming commonplace so I have a few of them, but I think the lesson regarding competition is best learned sooner rather than later.

Literally one part is about competition, the job market, and as you admit: it's more than just scores and winning.

And for you failure itself serves as motivation.  That's not the same for everyone.  And quitting because you're not the greatest at it isn't a great lesson we should be teaching children.

Giving out participation trophies doesn't mean kids don't learn about competition.  It's not an either/or scenario, where you can either have participation trophies or teach about competition.  You act like it's a zero sum game.  It's not.

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I would think this gilded age of horrible and idiotic rich people and their slack-jawed heirs would bury the meritocracy myth.

If you fail to get a single job you are not immediately cast in the street or sent to Siberia. Indeed you likely have more resumes sent out. And sometimes just sheer endurance and sitting in one place matters a lot.

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It's intersting... I dont know that I care one way or another specifically, but this summer, Little Jax, aged all of 8, was in a track club. It was something just to get him doing any kind of athletics.  They'd do little, informal meets with other clubs. It wasn't organized in any great way. But they'd run events and group the kids by age and such.  The first time he was in a race, the group was at least 10 kids, only the first 8 places got ribbons.  He was last and got nothing.  He wasn't overly phased, so I wasn't. The next week, the group he ran in was only 8 kids. He still came in last, but he got the 8th place ribbon.  Rather than dwelling on the fact he only got something because there were only 8 kids, he locked onto the idea that he needed to get a 7th place ribbon next.  Of course, the next week, he was 7th of 7, but he got that 7th place ribbon, without even acknowledging he was still coming in last.  So he went for 6th, and you guessed it, only 6 in the group the following week. He honestly didn't care about getting a ribbon by default essentially, he was trying because he thought he was working towards the next level up, which he essentially did.  And I was proud of him for it.

What it really spurred was his jealous little sister, who didn't like that he had more track ribbons than she had from gymnastics, which she got for completing a level and moving up.  

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On 9/1/2018 at 11:10 PM, Altherion said:

On the contrary, adult life is very much about competition. You are right in that the criteria for winning are almost never as clear-cut as in the contests of children, but nevertheless, a fraction of applicants will get into a university and the rest will not, a single candidate will get the job and the rest will not, etc.

Competition can have funny side-effects though.

France offers a lot of competitive exams ; it's the principle of the old "republican meritocracy." You need to take competitive exams to get into the most prestigious schools that allow one to become a high civil servant, a minister, or even president. I'm talking about the ENA, the ENS or Sciences Po Paris. These exams usually have at least two stages: written and oral, and passing the written stage allows one to move on to the orals.
Funny thing is, these exams are so competitive that just passing the written stage is cause enough for celebration. It's called being "admittable" (admissible). And it's not a simple "participation trophy" either: you can put it on your resume and it actually helps you get a job.

Similarly you have two competitive exams to be a teacher. The first one, CAPES allows to teach mostly in middle or high school. The second one, Agrégation, is far more difficult, far more prestigious, and allows one to teach at university level. Well, if you're a secondary school teacher who passed twice the written stage of the Agrégation you get a pay raise (IIRC something like 150€ a month, depending on your teaching experience).

Lastly when you're trying to get an assistant professorship in French universities the interviews are also considered to be a competitive exam. So even if you don't get the job you may get "ranked" like 2nd or 3rd... etc. It means if the n°1 doesn't take the job after all (they may have gotten an even better one) you're next on the list. But even if you don't get the job, it's still resume-worthy and will help you get your position the following year.

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I think it is obviously a big difference if kids are 8 or 16. And also what kind of competition. There are things were finishing/passing is a considerable achievement, others where it is not. (Finishing a marathon in 5 hours is slow but still something, finishing a 5k race in 1 hour is not really an achievement unless one is considerably handicapped.)

For kids up to 13 or so, I'd usually be in favor of participation trophies (or sth. like that) while small kids also are competitive and there usually should also be a difference between a trophy for a winner and a mere finisher/participant. For teenagers it depends on the kind of event and the circumstances.

Finally, I'd also submit that the goal should rather be to alleviate the often socially destructive competiveness of the post-highschool world than to avoid or play down competition among children. One of the main points of non-professional and youth sports was to train youngsters in "fair play" and being gracious winners and losers within a "safe space" because the winning/losing did not matter all that much. And that putting up a good fight in a sports match or race was also a worthwhile achievement if one finally lost. Briefly, one of the main point of the safe space of sports, school (and also college to some extent) is that one can try out and learn stuff that could be rather more consequential in the "real world", not that one is completely screened off from the experience of losing or failing.

(I have been a very sore loser since I was 5 or 6 albeit mainly in board and similar games and unfortunately it has not really changed in the last 40 years...)

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I've always been competitive and enjoyed sports, but never been exceptional at any. I have lots of participation medals, and as far as I can remember, they were all absolutely meaningless to me, I would have thrown them all away straight away, but I would have thought it would upset my parents. 

What is funny to me is that since I was a kid (I'm now 27) this has been an issue in the UK, with grumpy old people insisting it will destroy our competitiveness. My participation medal generation has been far more successful at the Olympics than their pre participation medal generation, yet they still keep spouting the same thing, despite all the evidence to the contrary. 

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What is this obessession we have with children and the REAL WORLD my god - can’t  we let children have at least some time when all they need to care about is kid stuff - school is important yes but the idea of tailoring every single thing to children in a way they that aligns with some cold tactical view of the world seems very cynical. You don’t want to go too far into coddling children because they do need to know consequences to bad behaviour but I’m all for participation trophies because as you say participating and getting out there and doing something IS a good thing and SHOULD be encouraged and you DONT have to be number one. Instilling a need in children to always be number one is way more unhealthy. There will always be people more attractive, richer, more intelligent, luckier than you in the REAL adult world so why let kids think they have to be number 1 or nothing? They should just be happy with who they are. 

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