Participation trophies do more harm than good

Sports have always been competitive by nature. The essence of competition requires some to come out on top while others sink to the bottom. Darwin’s theory of natural selection translates directly into the world of sports.

Devin TuckerSurvival of the fittest describes the notion that some groups must win while others lose. This concept of Social Darwinism has been at the very core of human existence for thousands of years, yet the society in which we live unwittingly weakens the resolve of people by distributing awards when they are not deserved.

When schools or coaches give people trophies for simply participating in a sport it generates a sense of entitlement, which actually hurts them in their future endeavors.

I have experienced this process several times throughout my life. At my old school everyone received trophies at the end of the year convocation if they played a sport.

They gave these trophies out for just participating, and I remember the sense of happiness I felt when I was in lower school. However, as I grew older the trophies seemed to become more and more meaningless.

I remember sitting in convocation during seventh grade after losing every game during our lacrosse season.

The head of athletics gave a lofty and essentially false account of our season and then proceeded to hand a trophy to everyone on the team. I felt that it was almost an insult to receive a trophy because we did not earn it.

I would understand if an individual on our team received an award for good leadership or a solid work ethic, but the mundane and useless nature of a participation trophy just seemed like a waste of space.

Just recently I read an article about James Harrison, a defensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He discusses why he returned the trophies his sons received for participation. He essentially reiterates my argument.

“I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned, and I’m 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,” the Pro-Bowler commented.

I wholeheartedly agree with Harrison’s account. The hardest things in life produce the greatest sense of achievement, and a trophy feels a lot sweeter when it is earned through hard work.

Generation Y, the generation of which I am a part, for the most part feels a sense of entitlement because of the society in which we grew up.

I read somewhere that “happiness = expectations – reality,” a simple and astute description of the problems that we face. Our parents grew up during a fiscally prosperous time during our country’s history, and their reality turned out to be greater than their expectations. Their capacity to instill a sense of uniqueness and the term “special” in our minds has actually served to weaken us as a generation.

This goes back to the participation trophies; our expectations are greater than reality.

Although there will obviously be members of our generation who achieve great success and do what they love, a large number will be sad, in terms of the definition I stated above, because their expectations will greatly outweigh reality.

When people are given rewards for things they do not earn they become lazier and believe they don’t have to work as hard as they ultimately should. Trophies are trophies for a reason — they must be earned.

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