Participation-Award Syndrome and the Consequences of Entitlement

He got a trophy for showing up… is this the message we want to send to our kids?

My son had great T-Ball coaches and I credit them for being patient and committed. They provided solid tips and even one of their parents (a grandfather) got involved in coaching the team. The three of them encouraged our kids to have fun and participate, which everyone appreciated. Family members from various generations showed up to watch them play. Then came the end of the season…

Why are we giving out trophies to five-year-olds for simply being involved?

A trophy used to mean something – it represented the fact you won. Receiving one meant you worked harder than others to achieve it. In other words, you earned it. Receiving one as a team member meant you put effort into working with others to accomplish something others could not.

My son can’t play with the trophy, but it’s there, highlighting his participation in T-Ball. What message does it send when he picks it up or looks at it?

I’m breaking this down to get to the root problem behind this syndrome vexing coaches and parents alike. Those who do not see the flaw in the premise (i.e. doling out trophies) may be suffering themselves from a case of…

…Entitlement. One who involves themselves in any given activity, who lends their time, attention and patience, may acquire the belief that they are entitled to a reward. The individual may find him or herself asking this question on a regular basis: ‘what’s in it for me?’

If we want to raise a generation of kids that come to sports, work or life events with this perspective, perhaps participation awards do not go far enough. ‘Perhaps Oxygen Consumption Awards’ should follow. Let’s start earlier… maybe we should congratulate children for being conscious during activities when they are 2-to-3 years old, given their inclination to nap.

T-Ball for five-year-olds is way too early for formal competition. It makes no sense. Providing the means to familiarize themselves with the game, hitting the ball and catching are all that matter.

The best way to reminisce with one’s child is with the jersey and cap provided to them at this age. Let’s put the trophies aside and reserve these awards for real winners when they are older. For those who do not earn one, the lesson on the backend is… work harder next time.

Let’s tamp down our children’s expectations about entitlement and espouse a different message at an early age: If you want to get a trophy and be a winner, you have to earn it.

If you like this article, check out the following:

Stop Bullying? Obviously, but Promote Resilience with Equal Vigor

The Art of Consistency

When the Opportunity Arises, Shift the Blame to a ‘Circumstance’

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