Am I Raising a Participation Trophy Winner?

participation-trophy-winnerMy son has a quick answer whenever he drops a football sent his way.

“Bad throw, Dad,” he says, hoping that explains it. Eli is six, and he drops the ball quite a bit. But I’m learning not to take his excuses with a good-hearted shrug. It’s part of his sports maturity, the ability to play a competitive game, try your best and don’t use pat excuses for errors.

It isn’t easy for this Dad. I’m one of those horribly annoying parents who shouted, “good job” to my kids for the first three years of their lives. Everything merited that phrase. Successfully climbing the monkey bars. Sliding down a park ride without losing a body part. Even navigating a swinging bridge that anyone could do without breaking a sweat.

“Good job, honey!”

Where did that come from, and who convinced me to repeat it with such passion?

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The phrase came to mind this week while reading the latest parenting cause celebre – the Participation Trophy. Pittsburgh Steelers lineback James Harrison broke the Internet by sharing his outrage over the participation trophy mindset. Here’s what the pro athlete said on his Instagram account:

While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy.”

The funny thing about social media memes is that they speak a truth too often ignored. It’s why Harrison’s lament went viral, with the vast majority of parents saying, “right on!”

Or even “Good job, James!”

I’m on Team James myself. Winning matters. Losing builds character. And our children will do some of both in their lives. Preparing them for one but not the other is a big mistake. We see it in adults who don’t take responsibility for their actions. Or reality show singers who can’t process the fact that they can’t carry a tune, period. Too often people say their own version of, “bad throw” rather than digging in and trying harder.

Participation trophies aren’t to blame in every case. They are a symptom, though.

So where does that leave my future NFL star? Every time Eli fumbles a perfectly good throw I’ll either say, “good try” or instruct him how to make that catch the next time. “Use two hands.” “Cradle it into your body.” “Don’t be afraid of the ball … it’s just a Nerf.”

And, when my throw is decidedly off the mark, I’ll quickly tell him. “Daddy’s fault.” And we’ll both try again.

photo credit: 4790_2 via photopin (license)


  1. says

    Hell yes winning matters. And someday they will learn that there are winners and losers in adult life and if parents don’t prepare their child for this important life lesson they are doing them a huge disservice.

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