Participation Trophies: Helping or Hurting the Next Generation?

By Alex Berkman

In 2014, James Harrison, a longtime NFL player for the Pittsburgh Steelers, made known to the world that he stripped his own sons of the participation trophies they had received. The result: a furious debate. Should children be given participation trophies? The obvious answer: Yes, of course children should be given participation trophies because they deserve to be celebrated for their hard work and dedication to a team, especially at a young age. However, Harrison brought up an interesting point when he professed that “everything in life should be earned and that [he is] 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.” Harrison is absolutely right in that by awarding our children with undeserved trophies, we are doing more harm than good. To support this claim, first, let us meet Eric.

Each Saturday afternoon, a young boy by the name of Eric strapped up and prepared to participate in his favorite activity… LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL. Eric loved baseball! Actually, that is wrong. Eric did not love baseball. Truthfully, he preferred collecting baseball cards than actually playing the sport. Rather, Eric loved what little league baseball offered -New friends, a fancy jersey, a variety of treats from the ice cream truck, and a chance to just be a kid. But more than any other perk, Eric dreamt of the day in which he would be handed his own shiny, personalized trophy. Now, keep in mind that this trophy was given out for participation and held little actual meaning in regards to Eric’s individual and team success. In fact, Eric’s team was in last place in the league’s standings and he was probably the worst player on his own team. To make matters worse, Eric was not a team player nor was he admired for his selfish, lazy, and disrespectful attributes. Once, even when his coach assigned him to play the outfield, he was found chewing on an ice cream sandwich whilst he sat on a nearby bench. But to Eric, none of this mattered. Why? Because, no matter how radical his behavior, no matter how disrespectful or poor of a teammate he was, Eric, like every other child, would receive his own participation trophy.

Now, I will raise the question again. Should all children be awarded trophies for his/her participation? Many may argue that children, in particular, should be encouraged to be silly, to be joyful, and sometimes even a little rowdy. While children should continue to be all these things, our kids must also be taught that in life, trophies are earned and not given. Realistically, Eric, or a child who behaves in a similar manner to Eric, should not be rewarded for his “participation.” Especially at a young age, when individuals are celebrated for simply “participating,” they are taught that poor behavior is not only tolerated but encouraged. Furthermore, a sense of entitlement is acquired, an attribute that out of fear, prompted James Harrison to strip his two sons of their participation trophies.

When an individual enrolls at Byram Hills, they begin a journey in which “trophies” are acquired through merit. Owen Kirkwood, a sophomore at Byram Hills says it best, “There is nothing that is simply handed to us at Byram Hills. Everything is earned, whether that be grades, advanced placements, or prestigious accolades.” In order for a student to reach his/her goals, hard work, passion, and dedication are required because in high school as well as the entire world beyond Little League Baseball, there are no participation trophies.