Death Of The Participation Trophy: Why Only Kids Who Win Deserve Trophies

by John Haltiwanger

According to a recent Reason-Rupe poll, 57 percent of Americans believe that kids should only receive trophies when they win.

There are fair cases to be made for both sides of this debate.

Psychology And Rewards...

On the one hand, winning trophies produces a psychological incentive to work hard. In essence, trophies are an extrinsic award, which motivate individuals to put in the work in order to reap the benefits.

Most people would view this as a positive; it's good to have something to aspire to, and it's important to teach children to have goals.

At the same time, one might argue that children should learn the value of working hard regardless of a receiving an award. This is the concept of intrinsic motivation, or working hard simply for the sake of finding it enjoyable.

Simply put, "it's not about whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game." When adults give trophies to all children, they teach them that the most important thing in life is to have fun. Enjoying something is success in itself.

The Politics of Winning

Furthermore, beyond psychology, an individual's position on this is often a direct product of his or her political views. The study found that 66 percent of Republicans favor giving trophies only to kids who win, while 31 percent said that all kids should receive them for participating. For Democrats, the issue was basically 50-50.

This is quite interesting, and perhaps it should not be so surprising that Republicans feel that people shouldn't get rewards without making it to the top. After all, most Republicans are not supportive of subsidies or welfare, while many Democrats are.

People like receiving rewards, regardless of the circumstances. Accordingly, one might argue that if all kids receive trophies, including those who do not put much effort forth, it's unfair to those working the hardest.

In many ways, this directly coincides with Republican views on subsidies and welfare. The view seems to be that those who don't work hard should not receive rewards (money).

Furthermore, that people should not have to share their reward (money/trophy) with those who are seemingly not working as hard. Those with this worldview seem to believe that if people are poor, then it's their own fault. This is kind of like saying, "If you didn't win the game, you didn't play hard enough."

This is a very libertarian, and individualistic view of the world. That does not mean it's wrong, but it doesn't necessarily apply to everyone. It's important to remain cognizant of the fact that everyone comes into this world under different circumstances. Some people work hard their entire lives and are still never given the opportunity to climb the socioeconomic latter.

Moreover, it's a lot easier to tell whether or not someone has been putting the work in when training for or playing a sport. It's obvious when one team is more fit, or has more stamina, than another, for example.

Yet, sports are also far more egalitarian than economics. While it's true that genetics certainly play a role, and some people are destined to be more athletic than others, even the least skilled participants can exhibit a good work ethic.

When it comes to socioeconomic competition, however, the game is not as clear-cut.

Many people do not realize the advantages they've had in life compared to others, and the impact this has on helping them get ahead. It's important that we remain conscious of our privileges in order to help those who are less fortunate rise above their circumstances.

With that said, some subsidized programs are definitely abused, but that does not necessarily mean that the philosophy behind them is inherently flawed.

As a society, it's important that we help others move forward, without putting too much of a burden on those at the top. Economic growth is impossible if you do not find a healthy balance between the two.

Taxing the rich overwhelmingly to help the poor stifles business, growth, innovation and investments. At the same time, ignoring those at the bottom allows poverty to grow like a cancer.

Inequality creates social unrest and political strife, which is also bad for business. Not to mention, it's arguably immoral to ignore the poor, and doesn't reflect very well on society.

The World Is Not Black and White... We Need Compromise

Thus, the conversation surrounding this trophy issue is not so black and white. It does, however, offer some insightful reflections on modern society.

Kids should be taught that hard work in itself is its own reward, which could be reinforced by giving out trophies.

Or perhaps, for those who don't win, individual awards can be given out to each player to reflect how he or she contributed to the team over the season, or what he or she improved upon the most. It's important to congratulate children on all of their triumphs, large and small.

Furthermore, children should not be taught that they are better than others simply because they have won in a competition. We should not be creating a society in which "losers" are seen as weak and insignificant. There is something to be said for simply having the courage to step into the game. The same is true in life.

Therefore, rewards should often be given based on specific circumstances, rather than some absolute ideal. This is true in both sports and economics.

Compromise is important in this often polarized world.

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