Should You Give Out Participation Awards?

What Is a Participation Award?

As the name suggests, a participation award is an object presented to an individual to recognize that they took part in a competition, regardless of whether they placed among the top participants. Participation awards come in many forms, from event ribbons and trophies to paper certificates and engraved plaques. Because these awards are given to all participants, they are typically not personalized. They may, however, be customized as an order so that each award bears the host organization’s identifying elements and colors, or the branding of the particular event.

Who Uses Participation Awards?

Participation awards are commonly bestowed in athletic settings, particularly for younger children. They may be used in sports camps, seasonal sports leagues, track and field days, or other competitions.

Are Participation Awards a Good or Bad Idea?

Why Participation Awards May Be Bad

One of the greatest arguments against participation awards is that they encourage the idea that people should be rewarded simply for showing up, regardless of whether they contribute anything or perform well. Some are especially concerned that participation awards may have a negative effect on children, setting a poor example for them early on in life.

The concern relates to how our brains handle rewards and motivation. When a reward system is working properly, a desired action must be performed in order to earn the reward. This is what gives the participant the motivation to repeat the desired action. In the case of participation awards, some worry that rewarding children simply for taking part in a competitive activity will lead to a lack of motivation and an unreasonable expectation to be acknowledged without contributing.

Participation awards may also fail to allow a child to experience what it’s like to lose, which can be an important developmental milestone. If a child is continually protected from the concept of losing, they may struggle to adapt to the harsh realities of life. It is possible that failing to expose children to inconsequential losses early on may hinder their ability to adapt and overcome when presented with negative outcomes that hold more weight than losing a kindergarten soccer game.

If everyone on the team has a good attitude and works hard, participation awards may seem like a good option. However, they may pose a challenge for teams that include a poor sport or two. A coach giving out participation awards would need to decide if it is appropriate to reward all participants and risk reinforcing bad behavior, or to leave out the bad apples and create an awkward situation.

Why Participation Awards May Be Good

Supporters of participation awards believe that the awards actually encourage motivation. For participants who would otherwise receive no recognition, they serve as a special reminder that they are still a valued member of the team, even if they aren’t one of the top performers. The awards can reaffirm the hard work and effort of each individual without the need for assigning a specific achievement label. As a coach, participation awards can serve as a way to show that you are thankful for everyone on your team, even if they didn’t score many points.

Participation awards can also serve as a memento of the sporting event or season. They can hold memories of treasured times spent learning, growing, and making friends. These awards allow children to maintain a physical catalogue of the sports and activities they have participated in, without the need for coming out on top.

Many children may learn to develop a sense of accomplishment and confidence thanks to participation awards. For individuals who are not athletically inclined but still wish to improve, participation awards can reassure them that their effort and desire to get better matters just as much as the talent of the star player.

Mindfully Using Participation Awards

At the end of the day, it is important to discern how we should use participation awards rather than simply labeling them wholly good or bad. Let’s take a look at some factors to consider when integrating participation awards within sports.

Limit Participation Awards to Young Children

Participation trophies and awards may be best used to reward younger participants who are still learning basic sports concepts, such as teamwork, practice, competition, and game rules. At this stage, children are more likely to see the award as a fun treat, like adding a sticker to a homework assignment, rather than as a recognition of accomplishment.

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Use Participation Awards to Supplement Achievement Awards

Participation awards can be used alongside achievement awards to ensure that everyone on the team feels appreciated for their efforts while also recognizing participants with specific talents or who have made outstanding contributions. This can be a positive way to begin incorporating specific recognitions, such as MVP awards, while affirming that everyone on the team matters. If you coach for a school or other organization, consider creating an award strategy to help transition from participation awards to strictly achievement awards as children progress into higher skill levels or grade levels.

Reframe the Meaning of the Participation Award

Solving the problem of participation awards may be as simple as changing your perspective. Rather than considering these trophies and ribbons as signifying that participation is just as important as concrete achievements, it can help to see them as momentos or polite acknowledgements. Especially for younger children, simply trying a new sport can be a big step. If children realize that getting outside of their comfort zone can result in feeling welcomed, appreciated, and validated, while also understanding that special achievements deserve special athletic awards, then they may be more likely to keep expanding their horizons.

Are Participation Trophies Right for Your Team?

The best way to choose whether to use participation trophies is to know your team. If you coach young children and are confident that each participant has done their best throughout the season, participation awards may be a positive motivator and sentimental souvenir. If you coach older children and teens, or if you feel that participation awards would reward bad behavior, consider alternatives like a shared team trophy or achievement-focused athletic awards.

No matter your decision, you can find all the athletic awards you need at Total Recognition. Shop our selection of personalized trophies, engraved awards, and more today! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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