Slice of Life: Not Another Trophy

(This is Slice of Life, where we write about the small moments. The month-long writing activities are facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

TrophiesThe coach means well. Yesterday, at my son’s last youth basketball game of the season, the coach of the team pulled the parents aside, explaining that he was sorry they had not won a game all season and that he knew some of the kids were frustrated. He talked about the hard work and drills he taught them. I don’t think he needs to apologize — it’s youth basketball, after all, and he did teach them new skills — and I think losing at a young age is not the worst thing in the world.

Then he went on to say that he was organizing a pizza gathering and he had bought participation trophies for everyone. He asked us, does anyone have an issue with that? I wanted to raise my hand. I wanted to shake my head. I wanted the trophy train to stop.

These kinds of good-hearted gestures by coaches seem like they have value on the surface — honoring the commitment of young players — but I don’t think getting a trophy just for coming to games on Saturdays really has much value. Instead, what we found with our older kids is that it does the nearly exact opposite: trophies have little value when you have a shelf of participation awards. It’s that old supply/demand concept.

We’re finding the same syndrome at our school. Our sixth graders leave our school to head to the regional middle school, and you would think they were graduating high school or college with the special events that go on. We’ve tried to tone it done over time, but the pull of parents is hard to hold back. So, the yearbook becomes this glossy affair and our Recognition Night is nearly a formal event.

I wanted to say, save your money, coach, we’re good. But he had already ordered the trophies and no other parent seemed even remotely the same way as I did. I could tell. So, I didn’t say a word. It turns out the day of the pizza gathering is a day our family is overbooked anyway, so maybe the trophy will gather dust in someone else’s house. I didn’t mention the trophy concept to my son and he didn’t ask. He’s more focused on baseball now.

Peace (in the award not really an award),


  1. I am with you on this one Kevin. It’s ok not to win, or have a turn at blowing out the candles on your brother’s birthday cake. Great slice. 🙂

  2. I am totally on this one with you. It’s parents who worry about trophies not kids. In the end, the only trophies that really matter are the ones we earn. While my son had a closet full of trophies over the years, his prized one is the only one he still has. He grabbed a handful of dirt from the field of his last HS game and put it in a baggie. It’s still resting in his grandpa’s old cigar box. It’s the one he needed and wanted even if they did not have a winning season. It’s the smell of the field he wanted to hold in his mind forever.

  3. I am with you too! Children need to learn the art of losing and then bouncing back. After all, not everything in this life is about winning. Learning to live while not being the best or the most famous is an important life lesson. Next time, speak up! You might get company from other silent disagree’ers.

  4. Too true! I was glad that this year they did not give out awards at sports day at school- some kids did ask, but… Great slice in the words!

  5. I agree with the demand/supply concept – too many and for anything lessens the value of the trophy. Like Jaana, I wonder whether other parents had similar thoughts as you, and also chose to be silent. This all said, I was happy when my daughter was in primary grades and during dance competitions everyone got a piece of chocolate.

  6. Kevin,

    I really appreciate how you built this slice…First, the experience, then your thoughts, connecting it to education, then back to the experience…it is a great model for writing! Plus, I agree with your sentiment too!


  7. This topic is a pet peeve of mine as well. Our kids have gotten so used to being given an award for just showing up that it is now expected. My students will sometimes ask questions like, “What will you give us if the whole class does their homework?” Ummm…excuse me??? Ughhhh! My own children also have a shelf of dusty trophies from well-meaning coaches of their past. It makes me wonder if those same coaches ever taught them the value of effort for effort’s sake.


  8. I enjoyed your cartoon and post. We learn from playing. We learn from victory. We learn from defeat. I recently came across a quote from Mary Lou Retton (who even has trophies of value) that reminded me of your thoughts about how trophies carry dust and memories last forever. I love how your piece really focused on what’s truly important as well. Thank you for being so honest.

  9. Yes. My 6 year old finished a season yesterday of Saturday basketball that was completely not victorious in the score-keeping sense. (The Ducks totally got the feathers beaten off of them each week.) But he learned so much about obeying coaches and helping teammates. Not a trophy needed for that. My 10 year old’s coach was amazing, in that he took the reigns and taught them how to be competitive and reign in the emotions that come with that. Again, no trophies. Just pizza. 😉 I think giving some post-season feedback is appropriate. It’s all well intended, but really at this age, I want my kids to learn about teamwork and coaches, and how to compete. Not just to show up and get a trophy. Phew…your post unlocked some of my thoughts too! Thanks!

  10. Totally agree here, Kevin. I remember when my son was 5, he played bumper bowling for a season. At the end of the season, at the bowling party, the children were given trophies that were almost as big as they were, for participating. My thought…where do we go from there? Extrinsic rewards can de-motivate.
    Thanks for your thoughts that compelled mine!

  11. I’m not a parent, but I am a teacher and I agree with you. Too much recognition for something that doesn’t really deserve it. Awards become expected and meaningless. Kids expect something special for doing their ‘job,’ which is learning. They don’t self-motivate, they don’t value the learning itself. It’s all about what they will get in return. Very sad.

  12. Commitment and consistency should be rewarded for sure, but yeah the whole everyone-gets-a-trophy idea doesn’t really work for me either. It waters it down for when you really do earn a trophy for something done well, like winning! And why push yourself to become better if you know you’ll get recognition anyways?

  13. I agree with your sentiments in this post. When our middle-schoolers promote from the eighth grade they wear gowns. No caps, but they cross a stage and have their names announced. The top student gives a speech, as does the class president. This event is easily as well attended as the high school graduation ceremony. I think it’s a little over the top, but the parents are so very attached to it. I think we have a higher pass rate than the high school does. For too many of our families, this is the only time they will see their children cross a graduation stage. This is what needs to be fixed.

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