Participation trophies have become a standard in American society. These “awards” have infiltrated and overtaken the world of youth athletics and other child-based competitions. The competition itself is healthy, but the participation trophies that accompany the contests are weighing the country down. By using the trophies, the country is exposing and compromising the immature generations. The problem lies deep within certain issues that are becoming major threats to society. Participation trophies in youth athletics are improperly advocated by parents, stall maturity and growth, and fail to prepare children for the future. If these issues are not addressed by the leading generations today, the wellbeing of the future country is at risk. Participation trophies are fueled by unhealthy parenting techniques and the psychological pressures utilized by the adults that overshadow children. Parents are needed to guide their children and raise them to live a life of their own, but parenting becomes dangerous when the parents advocate unhealthy ideas that send the wrong message. Messages of encouragement and praise can easily build up and become too much, creating a child who needs that praise to even be able to compete. According to Chris Weller, excess supportiveness can “… turn a minor success into an expectation that ends up crushing a kid who doesn’t believe in himself.” When there is a child that does not believe in himself, it is apparent that something has gone wrong in the parenting department. Parents who think that they are doing their kids a favor by praising them and keeping them from any negative attitudes are actually risking their ability to learn how to deal with the “real world.” In the eyes of Washington news anchor Jim Vance, providing young children with extreme amounts of praise and following up with participation trophies is pretty much “child abuse.” Vance states, ” If a parent’s responsibility is to teach a kid how to deal with the real world, then that’s child abuse. Because that’s not the real world” (qtd. in Bieler 2). This “over-praise” can then begin to affect a child’s self-esteem. Eddie Brummelman, a psychology professor at Utrecht University, hypothesizes that once a child with low self-esteem is told that they did well, then they will continue to think they will always have to do well (Weller 1). And, of course, participation trophies only continue to lower a child’s self-esteem. Every intention of support and praise is eventually summed up in a season-ending participation trophy, accompanied by the cupcakes and gifts given out, no matter what place or what success the group achieved. To National Football League linebacker James Harrison, this ideology is ridiculous. Harrison states, “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,” (qtd. in Bieler 1). The all-pro Steeler would go on to say that both of his sons, ages six and eight, would be returning their participation trophies until they can find themselves some “real trophies” (Bieler 2). As much as parents and adults “improperly advocate” the use of participation trophies, the trophies themselves find a way to do their own significant damage. The trophies support extremely bad habits and stall the proper maturity and growth of entire generations that receive them. Cedric Moxey’s debate over the use of trophies reveals that football league officials in Keller, Texas actually felt that participation trophies “… send the wrong message and create bad habits” (Moxey 1). The point that is supposed to come of this is that in the “real world,” where competition decides and defines survival, just participating is not enough to be able to support a family or a lifestyle. The solution to this lies within the youth sports and competitions. Frank Fitzpatrick says that it is important that kids and young competitors accept a loss and see room to grow from it. By opening a young kid up to the feelings of both a win and a loss, they learn how to handle the feelings and how to build on any negative attitudes or outcomes. Life skills such as these are crucial to a child who wants to be able to live on their own in the future. Participation trophies make this sort of growth impossible for the current generations (Stein 1). Ashley Merryman, an author and journalist, said “… when children make mistakes, our job should not be to spin those losses into decorated victories” (qtd. in Fitzpatrick 1). Participation trophies do exactly this. They make a kid who did not win (and needs to accept that) feel as if everything did, in fact, go their way when it did not.Not only do the trophies fail to prepare children for the future, but they also make the receiving generations somewhat fragile. According to Lenore Skenazy and Jonathan Haidt, “… this generation must be protected like none other” (qtd. in Skenazy 1). In the eyes of Chris Weller, the problem with parents is that they see it to be better to always be positive and have their kids be “blind to failure.” Emotional overprotectiveness does not allow for children to learn to fail. Upsetting and troubling experiences are truly healthy and very important to immature competitors (Skenazy 3). Samantha Stein states, “We try to ease the blow of losing with participation awards… but losing teaches us a valuable lesson too” (1). Parents act instinctively, but, in turn, hurt instead of heal. After all, this “… inflated praise can backfire into these children” (Weller 2).The effects of participation trophies are disconcerting. Children in this day and age that are raised around participation trophies are unfit and mentally unprepared to advance the world as they are meant to do. Participation trophies strip young athletes and competitors of any ambition or motivation. The trophies act as a “false accomplishment,” and unfortunately replace something that could be a significant success. Instead of attempting to win or do something special, many find it satisfactory to just watch from the sidelines. For those who do win, participation trophies take away their success and put them right back down on the same level as the ones whom they beat. Participation trophies will ultimately be the barriers that decide how many goals can be achieved and how many barriers can be broken. The current generation, lead mainly by the millennials, has proven to be affected by these participation trophies given out to them at a younger age. Patterns of laziness and the inability to function alone has headlined the generation, mainly handed to them by the older “more experienced” generations. Right or wrong, the trophies have sent an alarming message. The youth generations are not ready to fill the empty spaces of the leading generations once they go. Scott Allen from the Washington Post discusses these certain features of the “trophy generations” in his article, “Thanks for Coming. Here’s a Trophy.” Allen decided to provide examples of what society actually thinks of these trophies and how they work. He brings up Georgetown Soccer and their hosted “millennial day,” where they almost made fun of the millennials by tweeting out “millennial” phrases. Allen states, At #MillennialDay, you can expect only the most #awesome giveaways (because millennials expect everything to be free). As long as you’re, like, basically on time for the game, you will be greeted with not only words of praise but also a PARTICIPATION TROPHY because all #millennials are #special (1).Thankfully, they accurately highlighted each downfall to this generation, including the improper use of language, the failure to be on time for anything, and the feeling that each of them is special in their own way. A bit excessive, but Georgetown Soccer has certainly noticed the patterns that have come to define this generation. They made sure to offer the participation trophy, because surely no teenager would show up without that being a guarantee. Although the older generations have accused the immature ones of their wrongs and their downfalls, let it be remembered that it was they who started it all in the first place. According to Lenore Skenazy, “Bad policy and paranoid parenting are making kids too safe to succeed,” (1). Not only have parents created these “bad policies,” but they are the ones giving out participation trophies in the first place. “When we raise kids unaccustomed to facing anything on their own, including risk, failure and hurt feelings, our society and our economy are threatened,” (Skenazy 1). This issue is expanding and increasing to a degree where it will affect the personalities of the children to the point where they cannot hold ground strong enough to keep even an economy alive. Sooner or later, the issue must be addressed. Participation trophies set the bar at a young age (really low). As the children who grew up around the trophies continue to grow, they take with them the principles that participation trophies supported. And as real challenges come about, older children have no incentive to attempt it. Promoting some vital life skills is a way to find an incentive for these children. Fred Bowen from the Washington Post found a way to do this. After coaching over thirty youth teams, Bowen noticed that encouragement can be good. Although, this praise is only ever healthy when it is used in the correct form. His ideology is that encouragement can help one to reach a goal. Winning a championship or scoring a goal is a true and real accomplishment, and one that does deserve praise. It only makes sense, however, to praise or encourage the ones who actually reach that goal. Otherwise, all of the encouragement is for nothing. Bowen recalls a certain conversation to prove a point in his “A Prize for Participating Isn’t Worth Much,”I gave game balls or hustle cards to as many kids on those teams as possible. After all, any player can hustle or make one great play. Still, a mother told me one baseball season, “Fred, I think it would be nice if everyone got a game ball.” I stood firm. “They will get a ball if they make a play,” I said. Later that season, her son Adam made a catch in left field with the bases loaded and two outs to save the game. The catch earned Adam a game ball. Years later, I was in Adam’s parents’ house. What did I see on the mantel, preserved in a plastic trophy case? The game ball. I don’t think Adam would have saved that baseball if I had given everyone a game ball. After all, an award is not really an award if everyone gets it (2).By giving the game ball to the player with the “outstanding defensive play,” Bowen teaches his kids to try and do something great instead of shying away, afraid of making mistakes. Audie Cornish from All Things Considered backs up all of Bowen’s thoughts, stating that praise and support for our children is important, but only for the right things such as hustle and effort (“This is Your Brain” 3).It is possible that the right kind of praise can save the young generations, but an excessive amount, as powered by improper parenting, is unhealthy and could be catastrophic. Chris Weller states, “… overpraising children can kill their self-esteem, and their ambition” (1). Killing a child’s self-esteem relates back to poor parenting and it creates a child who will not seek out challenges. Weller thinks that a child with a higher self-esteem will be more likely to “seek out the challenge” when facing a decision (Weller 2). Parental pressures become even more dangerous when “free play” is restricted. Free play allows children to try new things and attempt something, regardless of winning something or not (Skenazy 4). But when it comes to real competition, it is only fair for hardworking winners to get an award over those who they have beaten (Stein 1).


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