The Trend Towards Everyone Wins A Prize

26 March, 2011 08:46PM ยท 2 minute read

I now have two children in two sports - their sports aren’t relevant but the way in which awards are given has recently piqued my interest. When I was young the only people that received a medal, trophy or certificate where those who had completed a specific test/exam and had excellent marks or been the winner or in the winning team. If you were an average player or were just there to make up the numbers then chances are you didn’t get a trophy or a prize. The trend currently seems to be changing such that everyone wins a prize - even if you do not win, or succeed, or even contribute.

I have heard (okay, I can’t find a link to a verifiable, trustworthy source so going with anecdotal) that psychologists have found that not getting a prize is a source of disappointment and can cause feelings of inadequacy in a child (which can then lead to a host of other problems) and have even heard parents applauding the idea basing it on the idea that their child walks away with something to show for their efforts - irrespective of how well they performed. The problem I have is simple: Kids aren’t stupid and they know the difference as they get older between a “participation” trophy and “fastest”, “best”, “winner” trophies. When it happens in the school yard, “hey look everyone I got this great participation trophy…” is an expression sure to lead to some degree of pecking from those who have the more “sought-after” trophies. Suddenly the idea of “Everyone Wins a Prize” becomes exactly like the difference between two adults comparing their annual income which is an exercise that will almost always leave one party feeling hard done by.

It’s a quaint idea for sure and younger kids seem to like it - at least initially. Long term the effect seems to be less pronounced and at worst achieves little or nothing of what it was originally intended. Life is full of disappointments as well as successes. Learning to handle the bad stuff as well as the good is part of growing as a person and everyone needs to do it. Adding “Everyone Wins A Prize” mentalities will not teach the children anything other than to expect a shiny hand out at their next awards night irrespective of how they behaved or performed.

Note: I am not a trained psychologist nor do I know any nor do I want to know any.