I Didn’t Ask For A Participation Trophy

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.

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About Paul

This is the part where I'm supposed to write something interesting about myself and you'll read it and think, "That's not that interesting." So let's not do that and just think about pizza instead, on the count of three. One, two, three. Donuts. Now, wasn't that interesting?
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29 Responses to I Didn’t Ask For A Participation Trophy

  1. Pingback: I Didn’t Ask For A Participation Trophy — The Captain’s Speech | wghngoie

  2. Jess says:

    This post is amazing. You are 100% correct that nobody ever talks about the adults who gave us the trophies. I have a great video to share with you if I can find it that reminded me of this post, as usual haha

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As someone from Gen X, I disagree with the whole participation trophy idea. I am not sure when the change was made. I have to say as being a part of the latch key generation that parents of today are over involved making up for parents that were under involved. Most kids didn’t have parents watch their practices or games back in the day. Having everyone get a trophy makes it so much easier for parents. Parents who have no idea how to deal with their kid’s failure because their parents were never there. On a funny note, when I graduated from high school there were different categories that we voted our class members to be in. One was most likely to be barefoot and pregnant. We wouldn’t see that on a list today…so some things are improving…lol. Great post!!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Miriam says:

    My 15yo son recently came home from school with a participation certificate for something he’d done. Even he said he saw no merit in it. They don’t need it. I reckon let kids grow up learning to be resilient too. Great post Paul.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. peckapalooza says:

    I completely agree with you. I guess I’m technically Gen X, but I wouldn’t lump myself in with the ones who created the problem only to go on and complain about it. I’d say that’s the group that falls somewhere between my parents and myself. I was probably just a few years early for the participation trophies. As a kid, I didn’t get anything unless it was 3rd place or higher. No… that’s a lie. I got one “honorable mention” ribbon for an art contest when I was in kindergarten. But that was basically 4th place in the category where they chose one winner from each grade from K-3.

    And let’s talk about Survivor for a minute. Why do they even do these gimmicky tribes, anyway? Four weeks into it, they combine the tribes to make one super tribe when they figure out they’re lopsided and one tribe keeps losing and going to tribal council every week. They need to just go back to randomly placing 20 people into tribes and be done with it. That’s my old man rant of the week. You can keep your participation trophies. I don’t care.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Paul says:

      Haha do kids in kindergarten even know what “honourable mention” means? I’m with you on the Survivor format. I don’t care for the themes, or twists, or that there are 3 tribes some seasons. You’re right, by the 3rd or 4th episode they switch tribes and it’s pointless. Plus, I feel like this season they’ve got the most extreme millennials vs the most extreme Gen X members, just to make a point. I still love the show, just wish they didn’t overcomplicate it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. azpascoe says:

    Boo-yah, I love this!! And I completely agree. I would also argue that in ANY generation (like in any professional field), there are assholes. Some people are going to be entitled because they got trophies, some people are going to pissed because they got some BS trophy and didn’t win the real deal, some people won’t care too much one way or the other. We’re always talking about people who are entitled, who whinge, who don’t work hard enough in our generation… What about people who work their butts off for everything they get? Do we ever mention them? Because I’d argue the likelihood is that they’re in the majority – they just never get the same kind of air time. Grrr.

    Also – scented stickers. They were the BOMB.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Paul says:

      I completely agree with you! There are always those who give each generation a reputation and then everyone assumes that every person must act like that, which is how stereotypes are born. Scented stickers were the best! I always felt slighted when I didn’t get a scented one haha

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hmmmm interesting. So no. I don’t like participation awards. But if it’s an award that is personalized for everybody, I think that’s awesome! Like in high school, I got the Miss Congeniality award. Well suited if you ask me lololololol.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My Mom’s favorite phrase, which I now tell my boys… “Life’s many things. Fair is not one of them. ” The good news is that a lot of us parents now are free range versus helicopters.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Loved your post. Probably because I’m from a different part of the world, my experience was different, I have a different opinion.
    I wouldn’t equate a participant to a loser as they’re far from it. I think the logic behind it is to emphasize the importance of putting yourself out there and taking a shot at something that might not even be your forte. Yeah, sure, people laud the “champion” but what about the artist who showed up on the field?
    Furthermore, I think people are more inclined (at least around where I come from) to “participant trophies” today and it has taken on a positive meaning. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything to a 25 year old, but it means the world to the 10 year old, and those are the memories that shape the kid and what will be recollected in the future.
    People poison with words, we shouldn’t let them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paul says:

      That’s an interesting take on it. The way participation trophies are treated here are that they are given to kids just so they don’t feel left out.
      A participation trophy was a big deal to my 9 year old self just because it was a trophy and I thought it was cool. In North America these days, adults make participation trophies out to be the worst thing that children could receive and that it will set them up with and entitled mindset.
      Thanks for this comment, it made me see things a bit differently!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. anshurao says:

    I don’t believe there’s anything wrong in a participation trophy. What do they want us to do, boo all the kids who didn’t win? If they went in and tried their best , they do have something to be proud of even if they didn’t win , and there’s no harm showing a bit of appreciation for it .

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Excellent point! And I really mean it… it’s not just a participation comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Heather says:

    This article is so perfect! Great post, truth spoken.

    Liked by 1 person

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