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Winners are Losers

Staff Writer

Alyssa Karbel '20

· Alyssa Karbel

There is no denying it: we live in a world in which there are winners, and there are losers. At one time, the distribution of prizes to winners was quite rare, saved solely for special occasions. However, mass-production of these awards began in the 1960s, and today trophy sales represent a three billion dollar industry in the United States alone. Today, in youth sports leagues throughout the country, the common saying “second place is the first to lose” is no longer applicable, as tangible prizes are given to all participants, regardless of the event’s final standings.

According to HBO, there has been a “seismic shift in American culture in an effort to make each child feel special.”[1] Today more than ever, parents believe that constantly inundating their children with praises and rewards will ensure their happiness.

But science disagrees. Many studies show that, while using awards in moderation may help motivate children, non-stop recognition of trivial achievements does not help them succeed in later life. In fact, it may do the opposite.

First, it should be said that losing is good for you. Failure teaches you the arduous truth that, more often than not, success comes from hard work and perseverance through difficulties. Childhood is meant to prepare you for adulthood; children should not constantly be sheltered from adversity, something they will surely encounter later in life. Rather than turn our children’s losses into victories, we should help them overcome setbacks and teach them that long-term progress is more important than a single win or loss.

Meanwhile, we need to celebrate our children’s true accomplishments as such; we should not have to downplay their successes for the sake of others. Many agree that receiving an award is more satisfying when the prize is given to a select few, as a result of their specific accomplishments, rather than guaranteed to all participants. These less frequent, more sincere celebrations are more likely to motivate children to worker harder than easy-to-come-by trophies are.

Moreover, many sports psychologists believe that the constant handout of prizes disseminates the potentially harmful message that winning is everything. Instead of distributing countless awards, we should lessen the emphasis that society places on winning being the “end all, be all,” or the ultimate goal. Studies show that individuals are more committed to an activity when they are motivated by a passion, rather an external award. Thus, reducing the distribution of participation trophies could have a dual effect; it could boost our children’s self esteems by decreasing society’s idealist focus on winning, and it could encourage them to pursue sports they enjoy most rather than sports they happen to be best at.

Besides, children are not fooled by trophies; studies show that, by the age of four or five, most children can determine who excels and who struggles in a given competition. In other words, the awarding of prizes to all participants does not comfort the mind of a child who feels that he or she is weaker than her opponents.

Last year, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison took away the participation trophies his six- and eight-year-old sons had received during their football seasons. He lamented the difference between participation trophies and “real” trophies and argued that his children needed to understand that even trying their best doesn’t entitle them to awards.

Harrison has it right; this year, parents should reconsider the balance between participation awards and “real” trophies in our society.

[1] Grossman, Evan. "How Participation Trophies Are Making Our Kids Soft." Men's Journal. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2016.

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