Is There A Time And Place For A Participation Medal?
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Is There A Time And Place For A Participation Medal?
Is There A Time And Place For A Participation Medal?

I have a hard time with kids receiving a participation medal. I normally don’t believe in then. But, at young ages, they are just learning to love the game. They have their whole lives to learn how to lose. They don’t have to know everyone gets the medal they just known they got one. But there is a time and a place.

When They Are Okay

However, in tee-ball when L played in his first tournament he received his first medal. This was our first experience with it, and at this point, I would have said no. You earn a medal, but the look on his face said it all. He had played in his first tournament. Hours and hours in the blazing sun, with just a short break between games. The coach had hidden the medals and pulled them out at the end of the day. He may not have “won” his medal, but he earned that medal. 

His second tee-ball tournament was similar. His coach actually convinced the team that they needed to play harder if they had any hope of getting a medal. And they did. They played harder than ever and earned their medal in their own right.

Big H was getting incredibly burnt out during his first year of hockey. He had been counting down the day until was done for the year. Kindergarten 5 days a week, with hockey every weekend. There had been little to no break for 6 months. His love of the game has always been obvious, he’s passionate about hockey, but he was tired. His participation medal reaffirmed his love of the game. He knew his team only won 2/4 games but he started working extra hard so that maybe his team can win another one at his next tournament. 

When They Aren’t

The problem with participation medals, and with much of today’s society, is they don’t teach them how to lose. They learn to expect a reward for everything they do, even if they don’t do their best. You’re best isn’t always good enough, and that should drive to your work harder and play better, so that next time your best might be enough.

By L’s third year of baseball, we had turned a corner. He has now come to expect these medals, and he knows that at the end of the tournament he is going to walk away with a medal to hang on the wall. He no longer has to give it his all. We’re now moving on to our second year in the same division, and I know the same thing will happen.

This is one of the differences between hockey and baseball, while Big H is still getting participation medals in hockey, there is always another aspect. The heart and hustle, or the MVP awards DON’T go to every child. Those are earned. So even if they do get a participation medal or two through the year, they also have something to work harder for. – Not that it mattered this year, his team was undefeated. – This may not be how every league is set up. but it is how ours is.

Life Lessons and the Participation Medal

I always tell my boys, there is always going to be someone better than you, but the only thing I care about is that you are the best you can be. It’s true, I don’t care about the number of medals on the wall, I care that the tried their hardest.

There will always be times in their lives when they won’t win. They may not get 100 on their test, and they certainly won’t get all the jobs they interview for. They may start a business that fails or earn a degree that doesn’t make them millions. Learning as a child that you don’t win 100% of the time, will produce resilient, and confident adults.

And at the end of the day, isn’t that my job as a parent??

6 comments

Thank you for writing this.
I am not a big fan of participation awards for so many reasons. When my son was younger he would get an award for being top in the class, then another kid would get an award for “trying hard” and he would get so upset because he felt his achievement was not the same as the other kids.
If you win you win, you are the best on that day in that moment and that should be celebrated.

We plan in enrolling our two kids in a local soccer team that is noncompetitive and doesn’t keep track of score.. not sure if they do a participation medal!

I love this so much! You’re right, there is definitely a time, place and age when a participation medal is ok. Young kids who have earned it, absolutely. Older kids who need to be “appreciated” for playing but not winning is not. Kids need to learn how to lose, it’s a part of life. We are setting them up to fail if we raise them believing otherwise.

I think you are right in your approach. Sometimes little kids need incentive to participate and to be involved with a sport or activity. However, as they get older and begin to understand the world better, it’s an important lesson to learn that not everybody is a winner. The best in life doesn’t get handed to you on a silver platter and if you want to win, you need to push yourself to the best of your abilities, come up with strategies and just do it. There’s a generation out there that includes many who were never taught this by their parents, teachers and coaches (some got lucky at home with smart parents like you!). As a Gen-X, we never had the participation medal. We had to fight to get to the winners circle. And perhaps we’re better for it.

It is definitely important for kids to learn its okay to lose.

Tiffanie Anne

This is a great post! I have always wondered about this. My daughter is a toddler, so I havent thought too much about it just yet, but it has always crossed my mind. You make great points!

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