Look, I got a trophy for losing!


Participation trophies collect dust and are left forgotten on a dresser.

Last summer James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers posted a photo of a few participation trophies his sons received on his Instagram account. No, it was not to celebrate his pride as a dad for his sons’ efforts all season; he actually went on a rant to why those trophies were going back to the coach.

He explained, “I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best…cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy.”

In the Harrison household, there is no reward for trying. The debate over whether every participant in a sport should get a trophy has been going on for years. Does handing out trophies to every young athlete like candy make that trophy lose their meaning? Quite possibly, it could be a big factor to how we are creating a nation of wimps.

Losing has become out of style, and parents and coaches will go to great lengths to take failure out of the equation for their youngsters by demanding a useless trophy that will eventually sit on a shelf or in a box somewhere collecting dust. When this happens, the focus is placed on achievement and not development. The only prize in a child’s head is getting that trophy regardless of what they actually did to earn it. That kid eating clay in the outfield, and the kid staying after practice to take extra reps in the cage – yup, they’re both getting trophies. What message does that send to the both of them? What’s the point of striving to be better, if you are going to be rewarded anyway?

When children are given few incentives to challenge themselves, then they have no desire to take risks. In the real world, when faced with true competition for college or even for a job, second place means you don’t get accepted or you don’t get hired. Those children that were once coddled with participation trophies are now anxious adults without the life skills to cope with failure because they feel entitled to that spot just because they tried hard and were good, even though they weren’t the best.

The purpose of the participation trophy is well-intended. The hope is that it will motivate children, and not damage their self-esteem. But as a participation trophy winner all my life, I’ve got news to share: don’t patronize us. That whole idea functions under the assumption that kids don’t know or need to know who wins and who loses. This concept is ridiculous because we all very much realize who the winners are and who the losers are. In actuality, it has devalued the trophy when it is truly earned because it is no longer a true symbol of achievement.

Teaching a child to lose could be more important than actually winning. Sometimes trying your best is not enough, and it doesn’t guarantee you a spot on the team, a dream college, or the perfect job. It’s more important that even though the experience may be frustrating and painful, sometimes the best we’ve got right now is not enough to get what we think we deserve. The desire to persevere through defeat and to keep working to improve is what truly separates the winners from the losers. A participation trophy doesn’t recognize that failure is a step in that process, and part of the path to success. Keep your participation trophies, but remember to hold out for the real thing.



The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the various authors and contributors on this student-run news site do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of Lambert High School or Forsyth County Schools.