Majority disapprove of participation trophies. But why?


Most Americans — 57 percent of us — believe only kids who win at their chosen sport should receive trophies, says a new Reason-Rupe poll.

Republicans are more strongly opposed to participation trophies than Democrats, with 69 percent disapproving of trophies for all, compared with 48 percent of Dems, according to data collected by pollsters for Reason.com, a nonprofit research and educational organization.

Women are slightly more likely to embrace participation trophies, with 44 percent saying they favor them, compared to 35 percent of men. White people dislike them most of all, with 63 percent of Caucasian respondents saying only winners deserve trophies, while 56 percent of both African-American and Latino respondents say every player should receive a trophy.

Tolerance for the practice diminishes with age, with 51 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds (the cohort most likely to have received participation trophies) supporting trophies for all players, compared with 43 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds and 39 percent of 35- to 54-year-olds. A mere 29 percent of folks 55 and older support the practice.

Participation trophies have become shorthand, blamed for churning out a generation or two of coddled, entitled kids who can’t handle rejection and expect a raise for showing up to work with pants on.

They’re also a red herring that distracts us from talking about the kind of world our kids are inheriting: divisive and economically, environmentally and politically unstable.

Giving them trophies won’t change any of that, of course; neither will withholding them.

Still, I’m firmly entrenched in the trophies-for-all camp and here’s why: Kids don’t play for trophies. Kids play to win. I’ve never met a kid who doesn’t feel (often loudly and inelegantly) the difference between winning and losing, who doesn’t, in fact, do everything in his or her power to win at everything from Go Fish to hide-and-seek to baseball.

Every parent and educator knows the quickest way to get buy-in from kids is to turn something into a contest: Who can get their shoes on the fastest? Race to the car … and go! Lego pickup — first one to 10 wins!

Winning is fun. People admire winners, court winners, pay winners, throw parades for winners.

Trophies are thank-you notes. Thanks for showing up on time, thanks for not losing your uniform, thanks for being a good sport. And speaking of good sports, here’s a trophy to remind you that winning isn’t everything; showing up and trying will also serve you well in life.

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