Giving Every Child A Trophy Is Confusing The Hell Out Of Our Kids

In Learn
By Alex Flanagan | October 17, 2015

By Alex Flanagan

“Aww, I really wanted a trophy,” my son moaned while dragging the giant orange pylon his coach had creatively gifted each Little League player at the end of the season so they could use it as a practice tee. My son knew his team wasn’t the best in his league, yet he still assumed he’d go home with some hardware. Why wouldn’t he? After all, there are a half dozen trophies on top of his dresser that he hasn’t won, but received for participating in a variety of sports. It’s not his fault that in our eagerness to increase our young athletes’ sense of self worth and confidence with trophies we’ve confused the hell out of our kids. Because now, they have no idea HOW you actually get a trophy.

Do you just show up? Does it have to be earned? Is it a reward given for effort? Do the parents decide?

declan pylon

“Giving all kids a trophy is based on the self-esteem movement going on several years ago. A movement that went seriously awry!” says clinical psychologist Abby Brewer-Johnson. “As with many of these movements and programs they took some good information but took it way too far.”

As educator Michael McArdle sees it, it’s not the trophy that creates any issue in sports, it’s the accompanying message. “If you want to have the first place trophy, you have to earn it through dedication, perseverance, teamwork and good luck! Yes … luck. Along the way, a team may lose their best player to a freak injury – and that is bad luck,” says McArdle.

Luck, life isn’t fair. These are some of the lessons we parents are tasked with teaching our children. It’s challenging, even for adults, to understand that when the 100% they’ve given isn’t enough, they still are. That’s why Brewer-Johnson says, “We need to help kids have a realistic sense of their capabilities – both strengths and weaknesses – not an inflated sense of self based on the false belief that they earned something that they did not.”

Winning a trophy used to mean you out-performed everyone else. You touched the wall first, jumped the highest, ran the fastest, sunk the most baskets or scored the most goals. That took work. When our kids get trophies for not putting in the work, it’s teaching them an entirely different lesson.

“This type of trophy symbolizes your commitment to an effort and recognizes instead that starting and finishing are at the heart of competition,” says McArdle.

By giving trophies just for participating, it seems to me that we’re missing a perfect opportunity to educate our children about the frustrations and letdowns that real life will inevitably bring. What happens when our children don’t get into the college they wanted, or get their dream job, or when someone breaks up with them? No one will be handing them a trophy; we all know that. What many of us don’t realize, though, is the reason we feel compelled to make sure our kids’ buckets are filled with prizes might have more to do with us and how our kids’ emotions make us feel.

“Too many parents have difficulty tolerating their children’s feelings, so they tend to rescue them,” says Brewer-Johnson. “This does not make for a resilient child, in fact, these children tend to be more fragile and have difficulty coping later in life. Children need to know that they are embedded in relationships with other people, that they are human like everyone else and therefore subject to failures, disappointments and that they will not always win!”

Well, doesn’t that just make perfect sense? In real life, few of us win all of the time. So why are we teaching our children the exact opposite?

Giving every kid a trophy doesn’t teach the focus, dedication, sacrifice, practice or hard work that it takes to be the best at something. All it does is take away one of the great tools for teaching motivation – winning … a trophy.

Alex Flanagan co-founded I love to watch you play in 2015. She was flying home from an NFL work assignment when a learning specialist, who was sitting next to her, shared 5 reasons she shouldn’t feel guilty missing her son’s game. She shared their conversation on her own website and the response was so overwhelming it inspired her to create ILTWYP to help parents like herself navigate youth sports.




  1. Ha, this article totally contradicts itself. Author is upset she has to deal with a let down child and blames “others” for giving her son trophies for similar (or possibly even less effort and skill). She talks of having everyone just suck it up while complaining about how her son is struggling with sucking it up. It’s about balance. And that may be different for different families. Thankfully there are options for choosing activities that tend to be more about encouragement, team work and fun and others that prioritize competition. I think this author needs to focus on the things that matter to her and choose based on that instead of looking to blame others for “it seems to me, that [the author is] missing a perfect opportunity to educate [her] child about the frustrations and letdowns that real life will inevitably bring.”

  2. When children grow up and begin to move away from home take note what items they keep from their bedrooms. There will be trophies that have meaning to them and if they learned the value of earning a reward for performance that reward will have meaning no matter what their age. We took a box of old memorabilia and trophies to our son who is 37 years old this past fall. It touched my heart to see some of the hardware he earned on the shelf in his garage. I loved to watch him play!

  3. Don’t think you are giving the kids enough credit. Both my daughters play high level club soccer, trophies they earned when their team’s won tournaments are cherished and proudly displayed. The participation trophies earned along the way got stuffed in a drawer and thrown out. Somehow they know the difference without being told.

    • So true, thay know.
      son has many trophies, but the only ones he displays is a trophy for most improved goalkeeper , a medal that his team earned for season championship and another medal for best goalkeeper, he says these are his favourites. He is only ten years old but he know and is happy when he works hard for what he receives. The other 10 trophies and medals are in a box somewhere.

    • yeah my son did also playing soccer from age 4 thru high school, travel,etc and yeah but i do see their point..when kids dont know the difference between winning and losing as kids what happens as adults? honestly think we are seeing that now

  4. Real Life isn’t about trophies. Most kids don’t care if they get a trophy or not. The parents are the ones pushing the agenda for a trophy for every player. Most kids that play sports realize they are not the best, but they still want to play and have fun with their team-mates. The parents are again the ones pushing the agenda to win, win, win! At any cost right? Push the other kid down so you can be first. Make the other kid realize you are the best so they stop trying. There’s plenty of messages here. How about the overlooked one: Let the kids have fun when they are starting out so they enjoy playing sports? Stop pushing them so hard. a 6 year old kid doesn’t need you to lay down the same crap your boss said to you during your evaluation. Let kids be kids.

  5. 100 % Agree! I think these trophy’s reduce one of the best lessons kids learn from winning and losing. I think it is really contributing to uncoachable kids, and parents! I love the Kia commercial about this!

  6. I agree and luckily I grew up when participation were not the norm. Life is not fair to begin with but to tell a kid at a young are is really detrimental to their growth.

  7. I agree that participation trophies are not a good idea. I have no problem with giving participants something (t-shirts?) but the traditional trappings of winning (trophies, medals) should be for those who actually earned them, because “real” life is like that. I also think there’s room for a happy medium: I’ve seen instances in which winning football coaches have given the game ball to members of the scout team for working hard to get the team ready to play. It’s good to recognize hard work and effort and hustle, especially at an early age. But handing out hardware to everyone cheapens it for everyone.

    • A nice end of season party or BBQ is fine, don’t need participation trophies. It takes away from the great feeling you get when your team actually is champions. Something to strive for.


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