Has your child received too many awards in youth sports?
There’s been a lot of controversy about the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality that pervades our youth sports culture. That mentality has boosted trophy and award sales to a $3 billion-a-year industry in the United States and Canada.
Are you willing to swim upstream against this tide of overwhelming praise for kids? If so, then start by looking for the signs of trophy overdose in your own kids.
Signs of Too Many Awards
- Your child is not living up to his potential. Authors Ashley Merryman and Po Bronson have spent years reporting on the effects of praise and rewards on kids. Their finding? Awards can be powerful motivators, but non-stop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead, it may cause them to underachieve.
- Your Child is devastated by failure. It’s one thing for kids to take a loss hard or be disappointed at a bad performance, but it’s another to be so afraid of failure that they are willing to cut corners and “cheat” rather than risk failing again. When all we do is set kids up for constant success, they will do anything to keep from falling off that pedestal.
Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, claims that kids respond positively to praise; they enjoy hearing that they’re talented and smart, but after too much of such praise they collapse at the first experience of difficulty. Demoralized by their failure, they say they’d rather cheat than risk failing again.
- Your Child is fixated with his mistakes. With so much recognition and “success” going around, one little mistake can become a mountain instead of the molehill that it really is. In recent eye-tracking experiments by researchers Bradley Morris and Shannon Zentall, kids were asked to draw pictures. Those who heard praise suggesting they had an innate talent were then twice as fixated on mistakes they’d made in their pictures.
When recognition and constant success are the norm, mistakes and “failures” become much more devastating. They become the enemy, when in reality they are the things that cause us to grow.
- Your Child isn’t fooled by the trophies. Oh, at first, he is. Maybe for the first couple of seasons. But Merriman and Bronson suggest that by age 4 or 5, the charade is over; children aren’t fooled by all the trophies. They are surprisingly accurate in identifying who excels and who struggles. Those who are outperformed know it and give up, while those who do well feel cheated when they aren’t recognized for their accomplishments. They, too, may give up.
- Your Child isn’t motivated. If children know they will automatically get an award, what is the motivation for improvement? Why bother learning problem-solving skills, when there are no obstacles to conquer? If there is nothing to shoot for, then why bother shooting? Part of the true appeal of sports is the excitement of real competition and challenge.
My friend Kirk Mango, author of Becoming a True Champion, agrees: The whole meaning of “life-lesson” is that it has a strong relationship to what life is actually like, only, at times, maybe a little more tempered. And in life, not everybody wins, sometimes, even when their efforts exceed others. If everyone is rewarded and becomes “outstanding,” then where is the incentive?
- Your Child thinks Just Showing Up deserves a reward. Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me warns that when living rooms are filled with participation trophies, it’s part of a larger cultural message: to succeed, you just have to show up. That mentality has long-lasting effects: In college, those who’ve grown up receiving endless awards do the requisite work, but don’t see the need to do it well. In the office, they still believe that attendance is all it takes to get a promotion.
I’m sure I’m not putting smiles on any trophy business owners’ faces when I conclude with Merryman that:
When children make mistakes, our job should not be to spin those losses into decorated victories. Instead, our job is to help kids overcome setbacks, to help them see that progress over time is more important than a particular win or loss, and to help them graciously congratulate the child who succeeded when they failed. To do that, we need to refuse all the meaningless plastic and tin destined for landfills. We have to stop letting the Trophy-Industrial Complex run our children’s lives.
This school year, let’s fight for a kid’s right to lose.
If your child is showing these signs of too many awards, what will you do to change course?