Do 13th Place Trophies Encourage Mediocrity?

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If you're handing out trophies and medals and money and rewards for someone that isn't being their absolute best, mediocrity should be expected, and unfortunately, it will be accepted. 

If any of you haven't read any of Matt Walsh's blog posts, you're really missing out. Very witty and actually very thought provoking. In his most recent blog titled “If I Can't Accept You at Your Worst, Then Maybe You Should Stop Being So Horrible,” he gives a commentary on people that are responsible for handing out trophies to kids that finish a little league baseball game with “zero RBIs, zero home runs, zero hits, zero stolen bases, zero plays made on the field, seven errors, four innings spent sitting on the bench.” He is of the opinion that that sort of behavior does one of two things to a child: 1) “it can make perceptive, self-aware children even more embarrassed and insecure” because they know darn well that they don't deserve the recognition, and 2) “they will look at those trophies and gold stars, unearned and undeserved, and begin to develop an inflated image of themselves.” Let me add two little side notes to Matt's opinion before I give my two cents.

{ MORE: Do You Praise Your Kid Too Much? }

Before you read his article, don't get turned off by the title of his post. It's a little brash, but just hear him out. Also, his article obviously applies to more than 9-year-olds playing baseball–it applies to everything that merits some sort of an award. 

I think I'm going to add a third option to the mix. I still remember the days in elementary school when we were given fake money as a reward for doing well on a test, behaving in class, or helping the teacher out. If you didn't do well on a test, behave well in class, or find times to be of help to the teacher, you would have less “money” to squander at some dollar-store surplus event that would be held at the end of each term. 

Because I wanted to peruse the garbage toys that recycled themselves back to our school, I did my best on my homework, I minded my Ps and Qs in class, and every once in a while, I'd help hand out papers for the teacher. 

Now, had I not needed to excel in something scholastically related yet still was loaded with “money” and  had the chance to earn an honor such as participating in the sale at the end of the term, I don't know if I would have been all that driven to do my best. 

Giving awards when they aren't deserved can give a sense of contentment with mediocrity. The thought process could be this: “If I get all of my chores done, my parents will let me play with my friends. But if I lay around for long enough and leave my chores unfinished, my parents will still let me play with my friends. I think I'll go with the latter.”

If you're handing out trophies and medals and money and rewards for someone that isn't being their absolute best, mediocrity should be expected, and unfortunately, it will be accepted. 

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{ MORE: The Right Way to Praise }

What do you think? Is it wise to help children's self-esteem by giving “undeserved” rewards? Or do you think that rewards should be given as an incentive for a job well done? Let me know!

What do you think?

Do 13th Place Trophies Encourage Mediocrity?

Jace Whatcott is a self-diagnosed introvert who loves crossword puzzles, golf, and reading. Despite being a male contributor—one of the few on this particular website—he is not in unfamiliar territory. Because he is an English major, 90% of his classmates are females, so he’s not too worried about being a fish out of water. One of his favorite things to do is to raid local thrift stores for used books. He’s always looking for something to read, or for something to put on his endless to-r ... More

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2 comments

  1. Florence says:

    In my opinion, the answer to that question should be yes. Participation trophies like a trophy of last place can definitely affect the competitiveness of kids. What could be the kid who won might be thinking? If everyone could win a trophy, why does he work hard to win the competition? Trophies and award plaques are for those who win the contest. Participation trophies or trophies and award plaques for everyone never help a grown up kid who knows about winning and losing, but just make them lose interest in trying to win. It is better to buy trophy from a shop like Houte-hellewell in Toronto than getting a participation trophy.

  2. pumpkin says:

    when i found out that schools were handing out participation awards, trophies just for trying, i was rather appalled (and this was before i had my child). i agree wholeheartedly, it DOES encourage mediocrity. growing up, i rarely received any awards (also i am not the most athletically inclined, which probably had something to do with that 😉 ). did it hurt my self esteem? perhaps, but that is what kept pushing me harder and harder. life is unfair. if you want an award or recognition, then work for it. what kind of price are we putting on our children’s self esteem? self entitlement? although i didnt win awards, i still manage to get out of bed and look at myself every morning. i think we forget children are resilient people. it was a shame my schools didnt give out awards for art, i would have collected those like poop collects flies. if a child doesnt excel in one area, nurture and help them explore in different things. they may not get an award, but they may find their niche, and in my opinion thats the best reward of all <3

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