Medal of Participation.

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Softball season is over.

It’s another milestone in my daughter’s life.

Even the Kids Who Can't Make the Final Game Get a Medal.

Each sport she plays seems to come and go so quickly (except soccer… which drags on… and then drags on some more).

I’ve said it before, time (and her childhood) are moving by at a breakneck pace.

And yet, I don’t seem to age.

Maybe it’s good genes.  Maybe it’s dementia.

When her last game ended, she was presented with the traditional Medal of Participation.

If you play… good or bad… you get a generic softball necklace (see picture).

This keepsake will undoubtedly get shoved into her bedroom drawer of abyss.  This means it will never be seen again (until we kick her out of the house and reclaim her room as our new office).

The medals are nice, but they seem so temporary (it’s possible many were lost on the trip home).

This isn’t how my generation was raised.

When I was a kid (the 80’s… or the golden years as I like to call them), winners were given trophies and everyone else got nothing (and they liked it).

Now we have to make sure everyone feels good about themselves.

Wins and losses take a backseat to feelings and self-esteem.

This has always seemed odd to me.  Life used to be simpler.  Twenty years ago you could easily identify who won the game.

Now everyone is treated the same.

Call me crazy, but there was something to be said for one team parading a gigantic trophy (usually plastic) around the field while the 2nd place team stood off to the side and cried their eyes out.

It was simple and straightforward.

If you wanted a trophy, you had to practice.  And work.

Then practice some more.

It was what made America great.

The people who worked the hardest got the biggest rewards.

But things are different now.

I’ve always felt it was wrong to reward kids simply for participating.

I don’t do this often, so pay attention.

I may be changing my mind.

Maybe.

Yesterday, I saw one of my daughter’s teammates at the grocery store (a full 48 hours after their last game and the awarding of the Medals of Participation).

Much to my surprise she was wearing her medal.

And she was very proud of herself.

Really proud.

Not because she was the best player or the team who won the championship (sadly, she wasn’t and they didn’t), but because she played.

She participated.

And she has the medal to prove it.

So maybe… just maybe… I’ve been wrong.  Maybe participating is more important than winning.

Maybe.

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11 Responses to “Medal of Participation.”


  1. Melanie
    on Jul 9th, 2010
    @ 7:42 pm

    Of course it might be hard to argue that participating should earn you a reward when we have students moving into college who expect an A for just showing up. There needs to be a balance, I think. I let my students know early on that the grades they get are the grades they earned. If they’re unhappy, then they need to look at themselves, not at me. I also grew up in a time when the winners got a trophy and the losers got a conciliatory trip to Dairy Queen. Not the same, but I learned that anything worth doing is worth doing well, if I want the feeling of accomplishment. Most of my students don’t have that. I worry for the future of the world if none of our kids growing up feel a need to do any actual work.


  2. Christy
    on Jul 9th, 2010
    @ 9:03 pm

    I think that it is great for younger kids to learn sportsmanship and so on and award them all the same. But I have to also agree with the previous commenter that as the kids get older, they also need to learn things like how to graciously lose, and how to deal with failure. One of the biggest problems I have with my students is that a hurdle seems like a wall to them. When the football team is winning in the first half, they play well and work together smoothly. But then a call or two goes against them or someone drops the ball, and they can NOT get past that and end up losing the game. They do the same thing in my classroom. If they don’t do well on one test or one homework assignment, they give up on all future assignments. I think that part of this is based in this idea that everyone is treated the same when they are little (which again, is great), but no one ever teaches them how to lose, get back up, and try again.

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Christy, Great comment.


  3. John Robinson
    on Jul 9th, 2010
    @ 9:34 pm

    Fantastic moving post! I agree wholeheartedly. We spend our lives balancing things like this. We want to award excellence, but somehow we also want everybody know we appreciate them playing the game. Your posts are always insightful and a pleasure to read. Thank you!


  4. jeff
    on Jul 9th, 2010
    @ 10:24 pm

    There’s a name for people who think that participating is more important than winning – LOSERS.


  5. Diane
    on Jul 10th, 2010
    @ 2:50 pm

    When my kids were little and I played games with them, I never deliberately lost. I felt they had to learn that sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. And now, if they lose any kind of game, they take it in stride, unlike a lot of other kids I’ve seen.

    P.S. It’s definitely dementia. :)

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Diane, Dementia. I knew it.


  6. Cyndi
    on Jul 12th, 2010
    @ 5:55 am

    There’s an interesting take on this in the book “Nurture Shock” — that over praising kids makes them afraid to fail and thus afraid to try anything challenging. As a parent (and a former teacher) I wrestle with this one too — there’s value in participating and trying hard, even if you don’t win, and I want to reward that. But agree that making everyone The Same (as opposed to valuing every effort) doesn’t help anyone.


  7. Bill
    on Jul 12th, 2010
    @ 6:33 am

    As the President of our local Little League, I refuse to give participation trophies/medals. My boys (15, 15, & 11) have so many and they mean nothing to them. Maybe it’s because they play plenty of sports, and have for many years, and the medals don’t mean anything anymore. When they were 5 or 6, they were exciting, but after that they hung on a bed post for years before my wife put them in a memory box. They were gone for at least 6 months before any of my boys even realized they were gone. I know some children only play one sport and that medal means a lot to them, but I think the lesson of working hard for your rewards are important and will matter more in the long run.

    My youngest son is currently playing little league all-star baseball and his team has a very good chance to win the district championship for the first time ever for our league. Unfortunately for him, he has gone from playing every inning of every game during the regular season, to a reserve on the all-star team. This was a difficult pill for him to swallow, but has really helped drive home the message that hard work will be rewarded. He finally realized that lesson yesterday when he was moved into the starting lineup due to his hard work in practice and hustle when he was given the opportunities to play in the tournament games. Even though he was rewarded with a start, it was not at his usual position, second base, it was in right field. Not his first choice, but the message was still received, that hard work will be rewarded, and he was just as excited to be starting in right field as he would have been at second base. While he has learned that lesson (it took plenty of “intense fellowship” with me as we like to call it at our house) the other reserve players, who were all starters during the regular season as well, have not embraced that lesson. Instead they whine and complain, along with their parents, that they should be playing more and could do better than player x or player z. I believe that is a result of the “trophyization” of America and kids sports. Everyone should have fun, but there comes a time when the best should be rewarded for their hard work. The sooner that kids learn that the sooner they’ll realize that it’s a life lesson that will carry them forward as adults.


  8. Sherry
    on Jul 12th, 2010
    @ 8:58 am

    There is no shame in losing. At least there shouldn’t be. How can you appreciate winning if you do not understand what it feels to lose?

    I am absolutely against everyone getting something just because they showed up. Participation should be applauded, for sure, but not rewarded.

    I found it despicable when the principal in the building my children attended gave all of the “cool” jobs (morning announcements, kindergarten helpers, etc) to students who were struggling both academically and socially. Meant to boost their self-esteem and demonstrate that there were better things out there, mostly it sent the message to the kids who were making good choices that appropriate behavior and hard-earned grades were NOT what got you recognition.

    When I became a teacher, I made sure to reward the students making good choices (and had many parents comment that their children weren’t used to that sort of recognition). At the same time, I earned the reputation as the teacher with whom to place “difficult” students because I was good with them. I don’t reward them for participating, I try to teach them how to be winners.

    Losing is good for the soul. So is hoisting a big trophy over your head when you win the big game. :)


  9. Pete
    on Jul 14th, 2010
    @ 9:50 am

    Whether they receive a participation medal or not, I think children are still very aware of the difference between winning a game or a playoff series and losing or finishing second or lower. I don’t think that because they get a medal to hang around their neck that they assume they have accomplished as much as the members of the team that win the league.

    Also, it does not take long (5th, 6th or 7th grade) before there are clear consequences for not being one of the best. There are selections for all-star teams, tryouts for travel and school teams, and the competition gets even more intense in high school sports. Children do not not try hard during an entire season, because they know they will be receiving a medal regardless of how many games their team wins.

    Outside of sports, in classrooms and schools, most students who are academically strong are given plenty of reinforcements for their success and hard work even if they are not selected to read the morning announcements. And those who aren’t strong academically or behaviorally receive many more negative reinforcements than positives.

    As long as there is money in the league coffers for participation ribbons and medals, I don’t think it hurts to give them out at the end of the season. The kids still know there were winners and losers, and most would still probably rather be on the winning team and getting the first place medal or trophy.

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