Sorry, James Harrison, but there’s nothing wrong with participation trophies

"I realize that I may be in a minority here, but who cares if kids get participation trophies or not?"

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison made news this week after his Instagram post on August 15 went viral. The NFL star, whose career spans 12 seasons and two Super Bowl wins, revealed that he will return his sons’ recent participation trophies because he wants them to “earn a real trophy.” The father of two wrote that he will encourage his sons until “ the day I die” but admits that he’s not a fan of participation trophies. Read his full caption under the photo here.

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His post, which has already garnered more than 16,000 “likes,” ignited yet another parenting debate on the meaning—and meaninglessness—of participation trophies. I realize that I may be in a minority here, but who cares if kids get participation trophies or not? This preoccupation with rewards and prizes seems like another classic case of national handwringing over nothing.

My kids’ bedrooms are lined with participation trophies and, while I hate dusting them, I think they’re good reminders to my kids that they’re team players. I’m not raising professional athletes; my hope is that my kids will still enjoy being physically active as they get older and have a lifetime of tennis matches, shuffleboard games and triathlons to enjoy. I want them to continue to do those things because they participated in sports when they were young and had fun doing it. Maybe it’s because I’ve never won a “real trophy” that I don’t attach any significance to them.

I don’t think kids care that much about trophies either. They’re already aware of who the best player on the team is—and who isn’t. They know who wins and who loses. They don’t play hard because of a trophy; they play hard because they want to win, coaches want them to win and their parents want them to win (although sometimes a little too much).

Participation trophies aren’t a sign of everything that is wrong with parenting these days (GPS trackers for kids are more of a sign of that). I feel this endless debate on participation awards is actually a cover for parents’ real anxieties, which have more to do with their fear of kids becoming successful on and off the playing field. I doubt that a congratulatory trophy at the end of the season erases the countless hours of positive reinforcement about effort, sportsmanship, fair play and team spirit that parents give to their kids daily.

Participation trophies may be money-wasting dust collectors, but they’re not going to harm our children’s psyches and future motivations. I can’t imagine that any parent actually blames their child’s failures or behavioural issues on a few soccer trophies they received back when they were in elementary school.

I think we should learn from our kids and stop making such a big deal about participation trophies. If you hate them so much, just drop them on the floor from about shelf-level height (not that I would know…).

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of which are fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman.

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