Trophies for All Won’t Make Everyone a Winner

Mar 26, 2018

Writer Ashley Merryman’s article, "Losing is Good for You," published by The New York Times in 2013, challenged a popular trend. She argues against giving out trophies to children who participate in sports, and questions whether it is a good idea to give everyone on the team a trophy regardless of their accomplishments or athletic ability.

It’s a common practice, and in her article she mentions the American Youth Soccer Organization in Southern California, a group that gave trophies to every player just for being a member of the team. Merryman points out that children respond well when they are praised for their accomplishments, and will try harder; but on the other hand, those who know they will be rewarded regardless of their effort do not learn problem solving skills. 

Merryman adds that those who struggle will not try harder because they know they will be rewarded anyway, and those who do well may feel cheated that they are not getting special recognition. She believes that the long-term effects are harmful because children will grow up thinking that they just have to show up and not put in any effort. Her conclusion is, “Our job is to help kids overcome setbacks, to help them see that progress over time is more important than a particular win or loss and to help them graciously congratulate the child who succeeded when they failed.” 

Trophies should be earned, not given away. According to Merryman, parents are responsible to make sure kids understand that progress over time is more important than winning or losing. I agree with Merryman that children understand that sometimes we lose, and that’s OK. We can learn and try harder the next time. But sometimes trophies are just given out to make kids feel good about themselves. An example of this comes in one parent’s complaint to a local reporter: “My children look forward to their trophy as much as playing the game.” That’s exactly the problem, confirms Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University.

I agree with Merryman’s position because when trophies are just given out, there's really no incentive to try as hard as those kids who work hard and sacrificed. Kids will just look forward to the trophies instead of trying as hard as they could. They get lazy if they still get a trophy and are treated the same way as the other kids that try hard all the time. 

Merryman states that those who perform well feel like they’ve been cheated when those who don’t work as hard are recognized. When we give children trophies and prizes for just showing up, they will expect it all the time whether they win or lose. Many times parents and coaches feel that every child must be treated the same. I don’t agree with that because if you have a child on a team that shows up for every practice and game, and also plays hard and contributes a lot, they should get rewarded with a trophy. Those who do not regularly come to every practice or game and put in very little effort, should be encouraged to try harder but not rewarded. 

Not everyone gets an award in professional sports. Usually one athlete is chosen for most valuable player, and this can encourage others who want the recognition and are willing to work harder. This should be how things are done in children’s sports, too. Young people would learn that trophies are earned for performing well, and hopefully they’d also learn about good sportsmanship. 

Setbacks can be just as important as winning, because both winning and losing teaches valuable skills. Losing teaches children to practice more or try harder. When my softball team lost a game, I tried harder the next time. Losing taught me that it's OK to not win all the time; it helps you recognize what you did wrong, and then you have an opportunity to fix it and become a little better.

Last year a new coach kept saying, “I’m going to make us into a winning team.” I thought that was great but, when you focus on winning all the time, instead of working on the basics, you do not grow as an athlete.  We could have worked on how we played, and improved as a team, and not just focused on winning.

Mackenzie Ferreira is a student at Mid-Maine Technical Center in Waterville. She produced a version of this piece for a Kennebec Valley Community College English course she takes at MMTC.