Participation Trophies are Evil!! (Except for Mine)

“Trophies shouldn’t be given away, they need to be earned!”

“My child won’t be allowed to keep a trophy he didn’t win.”

“Participation trophies give kids an unhealthy sense of entitlement.”

Participation trophies are a hot topic and with good reason.  We’ve all heard quotes like the ones above when people argue that we are sending kids the wrong message by awarding them simply for showing up.  How insane must we be to allow our future generations to cling onto awards symbolizing an 8th place finish, when the only real accomplishment the kids made was to convert oxygen into carbon dioxide?

It’s silly.  It’s preposterous.  As adults, we know better and would NEVER subscribe to the current participation trophy culture that is obviously a sign of something horrible like the apocalypse or perhaps a Men With Hats concert.

I’m a distance runner (not a particularly good one), and it is an incredibly humbling sport in which only a handful of individuals in any race can earn awards.  It would be nuts to think every runner should receive a trophy simply for showing up and taking part in an event.

Well, I mean most races give you a T-shirt with the name of the race printed across the front.  But, that’s different.  Most runners have to work and train simply to be part of the event and not everyone is as naturally talented as those who can actually win a race.  It’s not like the race organizers give away trophies.  Well, except of the times every runner gets a race medal.  But again, that’s entirely different.  As well-adjusted adults, we understand we didn’t actually win the race.  The T-shirts and medals are simply reminders of the journey and the sacrifices made.  For runners, medals are symbols reminding us that we were part of something bigger.  They are reminders that we took part in something that can be challenging, yet fun.  The T-shirts and medals are simply tokens that show we… participated in a journey.


The PA Dart Classic – 12th place in dart throwing (probably)

Okay.  Maybe this isn’t the best example.  After all, not everyone is a runner and plenty of people don’t take part in sports in any way, shape or form.  The closest many of us get to playing a sport is to root for the local baseball or football team.  And we certainly don’t blur the line between celebrating the accomplishments of professional athletes and our role as a spectators.

Sure, we wear clothing labeled with the logos of the teams, but we know we are doing nothing more than showing support for the organization.  It’s not like we say things like “We swept the Dodgers last week” or “Look how we stopped their running game”.  And the last thing we would do is to rush out and buy a Super Bowl Champions shirt or hat if our team won it all.  We aren’t part of the team.  We didn’t earn a championship.  We know that.

But let’s not trivialize our roles by acting as if we were nothing more than bystanders.  We watched the games on TV, sat in the stands, yelled and screamed, and debated with fans of the opposing teams.  We were emotionally (and financially) invested.  We were part of the entire journey.  We… participated.



Now that I think about it, maybe participation trophies aren’t really the problem.  After all, there are kids who really do deserve a trophy for doing little more than showing up.  There are children who struggle with being socially awkward.  There are kids with disabilities who want nothing more than to play on a team with all the other children who don’t have the same obstacles.  There are young people who have to overcome huge hurdles simply to take part in an activity.

Maybe participation trophies aren’t really a big deal after all.

Maybe the fact we are teaching our children that a trophy, rather than the experience gained throughout a journey, is the true measure of accomplishment, is the real issue.

What are your thoughts on participation trophies?  Leave a comment below!

J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.
Twitter @JJHensleyauthor


An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.



In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered.  When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.


Finalist – 2014 International Thriller Writers Awards – Best First Novel
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 And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology

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4 thoughts on “Participation Trophies are Evil!! (Except for Mine)

  1. hollyida

    Ok, this is a hot topic in my house. Personally, I AM against my kid getting a trophy for just playing a sport, for just showing up. BUT, it’s not the fact that he’s being acknowledged for participating is what bothers me, it’s the fact that he has another THING to add to his many collections of THINGS that clutter up his room and our home. I hate STUFF, but because I am married and have a child, apparently I am now condemned to drown in it.

    1. J.J. Hensley Post author

      Thanks for the comment.

      I tend to think that if parent define a participation trophy from an award that was won, then this is a non-issue. The clutter… well, that’s another thing.

  2. Rich Kraemer

    I think everyone getting a trophy is fine… for instructional leagues. Once you hit middle school, then you’re ready for healthy competition and earning your trophy. And I’m talking only about an actual trophy, or plaque, or medal, something that signifies an earned effort. T-shirts or other “gifts” given out at the start of the league are reminders and thank you presents for joining, they are completely different.

    You gave the example of kids who are socially awkward feeling like they took part in something? In 8th grade I was picked on and laughed at regularly. I was, and still am, socially awkward and introverted; but I signed up for the basketball team. Since I wasn’t very good, and since there were a lot of sign-ups that year, I was put on the “B team”. We held a dozen or so practices, never got a game together, and the team folded. At the end of the year I was given a participation trophy which I immediately threw in the garbage. I found it insulting that I was being awarded for essentially not doing anything, and being discarded and forgotten. Now other people hopefully have better experiences than I do, but that turned me off the who “participation trophy” idea altogether.


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