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Why Every Child Doesn't Deserve a Trophy

Updated on April 11, 2016
Diane Lockridge profile image

Lockridge holds an EdS in Curriculum and Instruction, an MS in Elementary Education, and a BA in History. She also homeschools her children.

Participation doesn't equal excellence.


The June 2011 edition of Family Circle Magazine featured an essay by Karin Fuller entitled “All Is Not Fair: Sorry — I Just Don’t Think Every Kid Deserves a Prize.”

In today’s society where feel-goodism and participation is “king”, it was refreshing to read a magazine article that I could wholeheartedly agree with. Not every child deserves a trophy for participating or merely trying to do something. While participating is good and indeed needed, sometimes a body on the baseball field is not needed so much as a body that performs better than other people.

I appreciated the fact that Fuller realized that participating in something or merely trying to do something doesn’t equate with doing a good job or equate with being successful. Participation doesn't merit reward, if that case were true, all football players would have a SuperBowl ring.

Fuller's essay recounts an overheard conversation between two mothers bemoaning the fact that their children weren’t rewards with poor work and poor work ethic. “Let me see if I’ve got this right,” Fuller writes, “Kids who don’t try should get the same benefits as those who do? … Are we so obsessed with fairness that we raise children to believe everyone should be treated the same, regardless of effort or skill?” She’s right you know, handing over rewards to everyone devalues the trophy and puts everyone on the same footing.

“By trying to run our schools and activities counter to reality we’re doing a disservice to our children." -- Fuller

Treating everyone the same, regardless of output hasn't worked very well economically speaking, and it doesn't translate well in the sports world either. Correct me if I'm wrong here, but when's the last time you saw a professional sports team hand out 'participation' awards? You don't. That's because they know that merely participating isn't the point- excelling at something is far better than merely showing up. Rewards should be handed out for doing above what is called for, for doing better than your competitors.

In a similar post from, blogger J.D. Mullane states:

When it comes to sports, some kids are destined for greatness, but most are destined to be great fans. Giving everyone a trophy is unfair. It would be national news, probably, if an athletic association announced that it would honor only top players, because this is a lesson in fair play. Kids understand this. It should be explained that the real world neither respects nor rewards those who glom another player’s glory. The sooner this is learned, the better children are prepared to survive, thrive and pursue their own happiness in a highly competitive world.

"A kid who works hard should be the only one with a trophy, ribbon, medal or plaque at the end of the season." -- Mullane

How this relates to the 'real world'

If sports teams are a jumping board for other grown-up ventures, let's think about how handing our participation awards relates to the adult world of the job market. The work force doesn’t hand out raises to everyone because they showed up to work most days, nor does the big client award a marketing deal by choosing via “eemie, meenie, miney, mo.” Hard work is rewarded with big paychecks. Hours are given to those who work hard and show up with a determination to make a difference in the work place (or at least they should be!).

In today’s economy, it’s dog-eat-dog. You better try your darndest to make that sale/write the report/flip the burger/hammer that nail as best you can or you’ll be out of a job soon, and replaced by someone who is just glad to out of the house and working again. As Fuller puts it, “by bolstering self-esteem across the board, we’re sending the message that self-esteem is more important than hard work and achievement.”

Children and adults alike need to know that their effort and time is worth something, is valuable and that they are capable of more than just the status quo — they can achieve greatness! All is not equal, nor should it be. Some are smarter; some work harder, while others don’t care at all.

Fuller closes her essay with these wise words explaining that children “need to see that people who work hard to achieve – even if they fail at first – will be rewarded more than those who don’t. That’s called real life. And it’s fair."

Truer words haven’t been spoken. From one mother to another, thank you, Karin Fuller.

Resources Not Every Kid Deserves a Prize (Karin Fuller) Not Every Kid Should Get a Trophy (J.D. Mullane)


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    • Diane Lockridge profile imageAUTHOR

      Diane Lockridge 

      8 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      I think a lot of it comes down to personality and preferences. Some people need "things" to feel loved/appreciated, whereas others are satisfied with praise. Personally, I'd much rather get praise or an "attagirl" than a trophy.

    • Jason R. Manning profile image

      Jason R. Manning 

      8 years ago from Sacramento, California

      I really think we are living in scary times. When we stop guiding children through adversity and personality building moments, we start building little robots. Children learn from challenges and what good effort looks like. I guess I see the opposite, if those who put in the extra effort are not rewarded, we teach them to be mediocre. Its nice to see some debate on this subject, thanks for sharing.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 

      8 years ago from United States

      I have some non athletic kids and some athletes. For the ones that find sports hard, a ribbon or trophy is a great motivation to try. It isn't easy to be the one who misses the ball or can't kick well. But no one gets better unless they practice and try to play. My oldest son is in swimming and was by far the slowest swimmer for years. Those participation ribbons and "best personal time" ribbons kept him going. He is still slow but swimming has been much better than therapy at helping him become more co-ordinated and physically fit.

    • madfatwoman profile image


      8 years ago from Decatur, AR

      I think defeat is just as important than winning. Kids need to learn the difference, and be empowered to try harder. Where is the dedication if they know that they're going to get something...regardless of the effort?

      Schools are starting to disallow competitive activies both in and outside of the classroom - from fear of making kids feel inferior. I don't look at it that way. I look at it as showing the rewards for working hard.

      I actually considered pulling my daughter out from playing softball when the league announced that they were moving to "non-competitive"...meaning there were no scores, no winner, no loser. Urm..OK...what's the point in that? I'd understand if she were 3.. but she's 11!!

      At 11, kids should be learning about hard work, dedication, motivation and drive. NOT you win no matter what.

      Great Hub!!

    • Diane Lockridge profile imageAUTHOR

      Diane Lockridge 

      8 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Good points! Sure, I feel bad for my kids when they don't win an award, but it spurs them on to try harder next time. I can KINDA understand handing out participation ribbons, it's a reminder that the child was involved in the activitiy, but certainly not awards to everyone. I recently tossed a plaque I'd received in elementary school because it was participation, and I felt I didn't deserve it.

    • Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

      Tracy Lynn Conway 

      8 years ago from Virginia, USA

      For younger children non competitive activities are the way to go. As they get older winning and losing is easier to handle and is more about effort than about self. There is a time and a place. With kids beginning sports like soccer at such young ages (4 years old in my town) going home the losing team and living with that until the next game seems to miss the point that sports should be fun for little kids. I don't know of any schools that give good grades from poor work no matter what the parents think. One difference from older generations was that there were fewer activities that children were involved in, most kids just played outside.

    • agsawan profile image


      8 years ago

      So true! I recently sat through one of those rare awards ceremony where not every child got an award (one of mine did, one didn't) Did I feel badly for the one that didn't? Yes, but he went on, he is still living, he isn't in therapy (yet.) He understands, perhaps more than some parents, that his brother earned the award and if he works hard his turn will come.

    • Diane Lockridge profile imageAUTHOR

      Diane Lockridge 

      8 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Thanks for the kind words!

    • breathe2travel profile image


      8 years ago from Gulf Coast, USA

      Tweeting this. Definitely voted up & useful.

      Warmest regards~


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