A Trophy for the Losers?

We as a society and especially in education are rewarding mediocrity and  losers.

Case #1 – A few days ago, my 11 year-old nice had a cheer leading competition.   I asked her how she did and this was her response:

“We lost. We came in last…but we got a trophy!”

Um. What?

Case #2 -A very good friend of mine  sent her son to a golf camp where he struggled with basically every part of golfing – his swing, his stance, putting.  On the last day, her little boy (9 years old) got into the car with a small trophy.  My friend looked at it and asked what it was.  He told her it was a trophy for participation.  She, an athlete herself,  nodded and continued driving in silence and confusion.  After a few moments of silence and reflection, the little boy said, “Mom, I’m not sure why I got this trophy. I’m not really good at golf.”

He is a very smart little boy.

Case #3 – I taught 6th grade in a middle school where students were publicly recognized for making the Honor Roll and High Honor Roll with a certificate and pin in front of their peers and parents. About 3/4 of all the students in the entire grade were receiving these awards. Normally, there was a small percentage, especially for High Honor Roll, which required A’s in every class.  Seeing so many students sitting there waiting to get their awards, one might think that there were a lot of really smart kids in the 6th grade. That was not the case.  Students were placed on the Honor Rolls if they got A’s at their educational levels.  It didn’t matter if they were not reading at the 6th grade level or above, like it used to be.   If the student had an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and was supposed to perform at a 3rd grade level and did so, s/he made the Honor Roll.

This is insulting to the kids reading at high school levels.


Here are my squawkings about this problem:

Case #1 – Trophies are for winners, not losers.  Not everyone wins and if you do not place, you do not deserve a reward.  In the Olympics, medals are awarded for 1st, 2nd and 3rd places.  That’s it. The guy who finishes last on the track does not get one.  The girl who finishes 4th in swimming does not receive one.  And they shouldn’t.  They didn’t earn it.  Sports is about competing. And when you compete, there are winners and there are losers. Reward the winners and only the winners. They deserve it because they are the best.

Case #2 – See above, but also realize this. Kids are smart.  By around 8 or 9 years old, kids clearly see who is good at something and who is not.  Some people have natural abilities and some do not. We have to teach this to our children and as parents and educators we must accept and acknowledge this; not give our kids false hopes that they will be great at everything.  These participation trophies are ridiculous and are borderline mocking the kids who excel at an activity or sport.  There is no need give trophies to everyone when they are clearly not good at something.  You know it and they know it. STOP DOING THIS.

Case #3 – I feel for struggling students and always have.  As a teacher, I knew that the special ed kids were placed on the honor roll because they were getting A’s and B’s at their level of performance (not at grade level) and the school wanted to boost their self-esteem. But this is not fair to the average kids who do not have an IEP or extra teacher to modify their tests so they can pass.  And, the more intelligent students are often taking advanced classes and have to work even harder since they are working above their grade level.  Let’s be realistic and honest.  Honor Roll and High Honor Roll means nothing anymore.  It used to be reserved for students who met or exceeded grade level expectations. Now, we are giving them to those who are nowhere near where they should be.  I am not saying there cannot be some other type of award for those students doing well at their level, but I feel that the Honor Roll and High Honor Roll should be reserved for our best and brightest. They earned it and they deserve it.

In conclusion, my main concern is that we are creating a society where kids are expecting to get an award every time they perform a task at school, on a field or stage and even at home.  Some schools have even eliminated competitions or keeping score in gym classes.  Let’s cut the bologna.  When you play a game, there is a winner and a loser.  Otherwise, it’s not a game!  Imagine if we did not keep score in the Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup playoffs, etc?  What kind of messages are we sending our kids?  That if a person simply participates in something, he will be rewarded?  That if someone tries  something and is not good at it, she will still get a reward? How cruel and deceiving that is!  It is not real life.  Schools and parents need to prepare their children for the competition they will undoubtedly face in high school, college, the work force and real life.  Kids must learn how to deal with disappointment and losing.  Sometimes they’ll win and sometimes they’ll lose. Acknowledge that losing can be sad and upsetting, but that it is just a part of life.

We must stop lying and prepare our kids for the real world.  They will thank you for it when they win and when they lose.

2 thoughts on “A Trophy for the Losers?

  1. I totally agree with this. I have had kids at work want to know where their reward is for doing their job. They don’t like when I tell them their reward is their paycheck. They think they deserve a reward EVERY time they do something. It is sad.

  2. It is really sad and very true. I was just complaining today about how we are not preparing the youth for the real world. Parents need to lay off too, unless they have no problem with their offspring living on the family room couch with an x-box for eternity. Too much enabling!

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