I was nine-years-old when I received my first participation trophy for failing to come in first place in house league softball. It was the first trophy I’d ever received. I wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t know that, in the future, I would be labelled as a member of the “participation trophy generation” because of it.
Well, we’re here now. The future. It’s not hard to find someone complaining about millennials and how we expect trophies when we fail. In fact, season 33 of Survivor is highlighting millennials by pitting an entire tribe of them against members of Generation X.
Less than five minutes into the first episode, someone had already brought up participation trophies.
I get it. It’s an easy joke to make.
“Oh, look at those kids who grew up being told that it was okay to fail. They’re clueless to how the world works.”
When I was given my first participation trophy, I thought it was cool. Of course I did! I was nine. Give any nine-year-old a trophy and they’re going to be obsessed with it. Kids aren’t old enough to process the fact that they didn’t earn something.
However, I saw the trophies that the first place team got. It was the exact same trophy. Same size. Same colour. Same shape. Same smell (I assume). Everything was the same, except mine said “participant” instead of “champion”.
And in that moment, I thought it was strange that I had received the same trophy. It never hit me that I was receiving a trophy as a “pat on the back”, or as a precautionary measure to prevent long car rides home, full of crying and complaining.
Again, I was nine. Give me something shiny, I’m going to take it.
I played softball for four more years and received five more trophies. Three of them said “champion”, one said “most improved player” (another joke of an award) and the last one said “finalist”.
The “finalist” trophy was given to every player in the league who wasn’t on the first place team. That’s a lot of “finalists” if you ask me. Oh, by the way, our “finalist” trophy was the same as the champion’s trophy.
I never knew that when I placed these participation trophies on my bookshelf over half a lifetime ago, that they would become such a big discussion when I grew up.
Can we think logically for just a second? I know attention spans are short these days, but all I ask for is one second.
I, along with my fellow millennials, were given participation trophies. No one ever talks about who gave them to us. No one ever talks about the generation that sat down at a table and said, “Let’s give the losers a trophy, too. We can call them participants!”
Millennials did not create the participation trophy. They were given to us by the same people who now criticize us for receiving them.
Funny how that works, huh?
None of my teammates ever said on the bench, “It’s okay if we lose, we get the same trophy as the champions, anyway.”
There was never any of that. We all knew that the participation trophy was crap. But it was a trophy. What kid goes rogue during a trophy ceremony and says, “No, thank you” when their name is called?
No one. No kid does that. So we accepted it, took it home, and placed it on our bookshelves.
Then we puffed our chests out and declared ourselves as “entitled” from that day forward.
So if you want to blame anyone for these participation trophies, blame the parents, teachers, and coaches who felt the need to give them to us. If they wanted to teach us that losers aren’t rewarded, then why did they reward us?
Would some kids have cried? Definitely. Kids are jealous when their friends get better birthday presents than they do. You can’t win. But they get over it.
Don’t give us a participation trophy and then criticize us fifteen years down the road and call us a generation that expects recognition for doing nothing.
No one ever mentions the stickers that elementary school teachers put on their student’s homework. It’s the same thing as a participation trophy, isn’t it? Except the sticker is stuck to the paper. You can’t put it anywhere. IT’S A STICKER.
And some stickers were more special than other stickers. Yeah, I noticed. Some stickers were fuzzy, some were shiny, some had a scent if you scratched them, and then there were the regular, generic stickers – the bottom of the barrel in the sticker rankings.
Why aren’t we called the “sticker generation”? It flows off my tongue nicely. Try it.
In Grade 8, everyone in my grade was given a sheet of paper to vote for which one of our classmates was “Most Likely to ___”. Every school does this.
At my school, there were about 10-15 “Most Likely to ___” categories, and about 60 kids in our grade. Every single kid was included in the final results. Sixty names shoved into 15 categories.
Why? Because they didn’t want to exclude anyone. It didn’t make any sense to me then, and it still doesn’t today.
The very definition of “Most Likely” is that there is only one. That’s why it’s called MOST likely. And don’t tell me there was a four-way tie for every item on the list.
It bothers me that my generation is regarded as one that gets coddled. And that may be true. But was that up to us? No. That was up to the adults who raised us.
Did they do a bad job of raising us? I would never say that. I think most people in my generation grew up to be quite peachy, actually. Can you really blame a child for growing up the way they did, though?
Adults have the ability to end participation trophies today if they wanted to. Why don’t they? Seriously, why don’t they? We’re just teaching kids to be soft, right? If it’s so terrible, let’s end it right now!
Kids joining sports or activities for the first time will never even know that participation trophies were a thing. Let’s get rid of the destructive force that is a plastic participation trophy!
Oh, by the way, I never thought failure was “okay” just because I had a participation trophy. It didn’t make me feel better. It was just a nice, shiny trophy.
I was equally excited for shiny pennies, back then. So, there’s that.
If my nine-year-old self went home from the baseball field on the final day of the season without a participation trophy, what impact would that have had on me? Probably none, whatsoever.
Just tell me I get nothing for losing and I’ll take my ball (and glove) and go home. Kids can handle rejection. Well, most can. The rest will get over it when their favourite TV show comes on later that day.
I could be wrong, but I don’t think participation trophies had the drastic psychological impact that a lot of people think they did. They’re just plastic.
What about the millennials that never played sports, or never received a participation trophy? Do other generations accept them? Are they deemed to be “okay”. The “good apples”?
Let me know.
I’m getting carried away.
Point being, I never asked for a trophy when I failed. It was given to me by adults. Adults who were raising children the way they thought was best. And, truthfully, that’s all I could’ve asked for.
Though, who really knows what the best way to raise children is? By the time we become adults, the world looks completely different from the one we were being prepared for when we were kids.
We can’t go back and change the way we were brought up. I was brought up with participation trophies that I, and (most?) millennials, never asked for. Don’t hold that against us now.