You either love them or you hate them. As a coach and a teacher, I hate them. As a coach and a teacher, I’m here to tell you that the majority of kids I’ve come in contact with hate them too.
We need to stop rewarding kids for just showing up. Being a part of something is rewarding enough for most kids. And, most kids see a participation award as a slap in the face. I say most kids because we’ve begun to create a culture in which kids (people in general, not just kids) believe they need recognition for every small task they complete. So, most of the older kids I have dealt with feel this way, but as the years go on, I’m starting to see more and more kids who want the recognition for “being present”.
Award ceremonies used to be something prestigious, but now they seem quite lackluster.
As a teacher, I’m actually told I need to give X amount of awards. The easiest thing to do is choose students in the class who were able to maintain an A. This usually gives about 3-4 names total. I followed this method my first couple of years into teaching because it was easy and what everyone else was doing. But, I soon realized it was no better than a participation award. The same 3-4 students get the award for every class they have. I believe it instills some sort of competition, but some kids are great students without great grades. It doesn’t show that those students excelled. Some students don’t have to try and they get A’s whereas other students try harder than anyone else in their class and still can’t reach that A. So, what are we really rewarding here?
As a coach, I call up every person on the team to recognize the fact that they were on the team. As though they were unaware of this fact, I then hand them an award that states they were, in fact, part of the team. I say something about every player whether they played every match of the season or just a handful of minutes over the season. It’s extremely difficult to find something positive to say about a person who feels they “deserved more” when they never put in the effort. When they did the bare minimum and expected the same as those that went above and beyond.
Prime example: There was a girl on our volleyball team one time who was ineligible on and off for the majority of the season. She was on the roster and played in about three sets the entire season, so she was given a participation award. I fought it. She believed she deserved it.
What message is this sending? We are telling them that you don’t have to do well, you just have to show up. You don’t have to give 100%, and you’ll still be rewarded.
It’s ruining our children and the way they cope.
Instead of teaching our children how to lose with grace, how to be humble while winning, and that they won’t always be chosen, we’re creating a culture afraid of competition. We’re creating a generation of entitlement. Children are being handed everything and rewarded for it, and we’re starting this trend at such a young age! We’re not just doing it through participation awards, either.
You may be asking yourself, why would this be a problem with younger children? Isn’t it a little harsh to teach competition at such a young age?
No! Absolutely not! If we teach our children at a young age that everyone wins and you’ll always have a spot on a team if you just show up, then we’re failing them right from the start. And, I’m telling you this from experience because I work with the generation that’s graduating and going out into the working world.
How do you think they’re handling the competition of the job market? They’ve been rewarded their whole life for simply being here. No one has pushed them outside of their comfort zone of complacency. They go to their first job interview, they don’t get the job, and they are lost. They apply to college, they don’t get in, and they ask their teachers to write the college and explain that they really should get in (true story!).
Our kids can’t handle being cut from a team because no one has taught them that others may excel in certain areas more so than they do. They get upset when there is any sort of competition because they’ve always been rewarded for everything they’ve accomplished.
We’ve gotten to an age…
where some sporting events don’t even keep score because they don’t want anyone’s feelings to be hurt. At the end of the game, everyone is given a ribbon for being part of the team.
But, being competitive is something that’s born in us. We may not being keeping score, but every kid knows who truly won and who truly lost. It’s cultivating bullying in a whole new light. Why should the child who excels help the one that struggles? Instead, the child who excels feels compelled to belittle the struggling child because they haven’t been taught to be supportive of others. Instead, they’ve been taught that even though they may train harder and excel, everyone will be rewarded.
The child that does not excel doesn’t know how to react towards the belittling they may endure. They’ve been passed along and rewarded for everything, and they haven’t been taught resiliency. They haven’t learned how to deal with the idea that others will excel and they will not in certain circumstances. Competition is born in us, and when it’s not taught correctly, or when it’s removed altogether, it’s this competitive nature that will continue to lead into bullying if we don’t do something about it. And, that something isn’t removing the competition.
By rewarding participation…
we’re letting our children down. We’re not teaching them the life skills they will need later in life. We are setting them up for hard times as they get older.
I understand that times are changing and we need to change as well. But, I also understand that we are hurting our children more than helping them. We’re in a time where kids are used to instant gratification. They post an image and instantly it’s liked, shared, commented on. They participate in an event and get instant feedback. Rarely is the feedback negative nowadays because we want to tread lightly.
Instead, we need to teach our children that competition is okay. That negative feedback can be turned into positive. That others are allowed to have opinions that don’t match their own. We need to show them that they have to work for what they want, and not everything will be handed to them. We need to teach them that there is more to life than participation and that competition makes them stronger and builds character.
And, as my wise little brother once said, “This is all rooted in love for the kids. It is loving to sternly tell the child to not play in the road. They may hate you for it and give you the silent treatment, but they will be saved from being hit by a car. It is loving to train the next generation in handling criticism and disappointment. They may not like it at the time, but when life enters a season of chaos, as it always does, they will not be swept away because they will be able to fall back on their training.”