Should Only Winners Get Trophies?

A Reason-Rupee poll asked

Do you think all kids who play sports should receive a trophy for their participation, or should only the winning players be awarded trophies?

Overall, an estimated 57% Americans said that only the winning players should be awarded trophies but there were big differences according to gender, race, politics, education and income. 62% of men, for example, said that only the winning players should be awarded trophies compared to 52% of women. These results are consistent with experiments in which women tend to shy away from competition (perhaps with long-run consequences in the workforce). Whites opt for trophies to the winners-only at 63% compared to African Americans at just 44% and Hispanics at 39%. A whopping 80% of libertarians say that trophies should go only to the winners compared to conservatives at 63% and liberals and progressives both at 53%. More educated respondents were more likely to opt for trophies for only the winners.  Trophies for the winners also increased strongly in income which could be because people with high income feel that they are winners or perhaps because people with high incomes are the types of people who enjoy competition.


Note that these are raw differences not betas from a statistical regression and since income, race, education etc. aren’t independent we don’t know which are the most controlling although the results point in directions consistent with other evidence. The data can be found here.


This isn't a metacomment on who responded how to the question. This is a comment on what the question asks.

The correct answer is that only winners should get trophies. But not all events should result in handing out trophies. Most sporting events are just not that important.

Equality is a virtue, as a necessary condition for liberty, but in this case handing out trophies to everyone is a bad way to implement it. Better to hand out trophies to no one in most events. You save on the time and expense, and everyone knows perfectly well who one anyway. When you do give a trophy to the winner, you should be saying "we really think this competition is important, so we will pay the time and money to formally recognize the winner."

Equality is a virtue, as a necessary condition for liberty

Diversity, equality or liberty.

Choose one.

Equality under the law is (at least facially reasonable as) a condition for liberty as a general state.

Equality of outcome is what's being opposed here; "trophies for everyone!" has nothing to do with liberty.

(Hell, liberty and diversity are quite compatible - so long as liberty is maintained as the superior virtue, and "diverse" desires to curb it are not allowed to succeed.

At that point, we can ask whether "diversity" is in any case self-limiting, because such a diversity is an enemy to "diversity" as such, but that's another matter.)

"Whites opt for trophies to the winners-only at 63% compared to African Americans at just 44% and Hispanics at 39%"

Open Borders are a truly wonderful thing. By contrast, friends from Asia tell me of schools where kids have to where different uniforms depending on academic performance.

This is a really bizarre absolute. Diversity and Liberty can certainly co-exist as they're not in conflict with each other. However, in most cases equality and liberty can too, but it depends on your definition of liberty and equality. Liberty means so many different things to so many people. For some it means not having to pay taxes. For others it means not having to starve to death when you get with a shock such as loss of job. Both of these urges are compatible with liberty, though both side would say derogatory things about the others.

There is a difference of course between equality before the law, or being treated as an equal citizen by your government, and equality in social status or the markers thereof. Equality before the law might well be a condition of liberty, but "equality of outcome" certainly is not; in fact, a society actively and seriously seeking "equality of outcome" cannot be free.

And what about Asians? Arguably the most successful racial group, just not in sports. They would probably say even winners shouldn't get trophies because their kids didn't "win" enough, and that giving the kids trophies would just make their kids think they were "good" enough.

They would say children shouldn't waste time on sports

If you're born into a family making $110K+, you don't need a trophy.

Maybe in Philly...

West Philadelphia, born and raised?

My spouse and I scrape by on a combined income of $270K per year. Really.

A big chunk (40%+) goes to taxes. Nanny costs $2,400 per month. Private school for one kid costs $1,800 per month. Rent is $2,800 per month. Second kid will have to go to public school.

Thanks to our elected officials, we can only afford to live in a marginal neighborhood where a single perp has been able to commit six sexual assaults in the same three block area with the same M.O. over six months, and not been caught.

You deserve a trophy for whining.

$270k * 0.55 = $148,500.

2400 * 12 = $28,800

2800 * 12 = $33,600

1800 * 12 = $21,600

28800 + 33600 + 21600 = $84,000

$148,500 - $84,000 = $64,500 per year after the expenses you itemized.

Don't forget consumption tax (9% sales/10% utilities, registration).

Call it 50k per year for transporting 3, feeding 4 or 5, professional clothing, child activities, weekend fun, unexpected expenses (car, braces, YMCA), insurance, holiday travel and gifts, charitable and deadbeat fam contributions (everyone thinks you're rich). How much could you put into savings?

So what you're saying is that after tax, child-care, education, and rent, this family only has much more than the median before-tax, before-rent, before child-care, before education household income?


I don't know what state you choose to live in, but 40% seems high. After the expenses you outlined and taxes, you're left with $6,500/month or nearly $80k/year.

I think I agree with Dirk on what you deserve a trophy for.

I could only dream of paying merely 40%...

Am in US of course.

Even if your marginal tax rate is 40%, I highly doubt it's your effective rate overall, unless you earn $1 million+. In which case, boo fucking hoo.

Boo fuckin' hoo. Nanny costs $2400? Raise your own kids. Private school costs $1800? Send them to public school. Rent is $2800? Move somewhere without a skylight. Guy in your neighbourhood sexually assaulting women? Welcome to Earth. I have one hot, salty tear left, and you are not getting it.

Hm. Since I don't think he asked for your tear, I'm not sure that stings as much as you hope it does.


I sent my kids to a mixture of pubic and private schools. The public high school was ranked in the top 30 STEM schools in the nation. First year biology was at the university (Ivy League) level. Of course, many public schools are utterly dismal. However, in a reasonable neighborhood the public schools are typically rather good. Note that nice houses are not all that pricey in this town and some apartments are available.

Pubic schools? Are those legal for minors?

Raise your own kids? Like, take them to work with you?

You might ponder how your nanny lives on $28.8k per year. Really.

"You might ponder how your nanny lives on $28.8k per year. Really."

Reasonable guesses would include

Other earners in the same household
Food stamps
Section 8 housing

Note that median household income for the U.S. is $51,371 (2012). $28.8K is a bit below 56% of the national median. With a second earner, the nanny household might be over the median. Of course, some nannies are (illegally) paid in cash.

Yes, all reasonable guesses, although at $28.8k the nanny is likely above the threshold for many of these programs if she's paid legally.

Nannies and Private school are discretionary expenses. They are not compulsory. If you barely scrape by on an income of that size then the problem is you, not your neighborhood or your local economy.

If this is accurate, it falls right into all my prejudices.

I don't know how anyone in a meritocracy can be both smart enough to earn this much money and foolish enough to spend it in this manner.

If our economy does not get righted soon, we will all crash and burn.

That's what I tell my kids but they keep winning trophies by crushing the poor kids. Could you supplement your advice, please?

So, provide a certificate of participation to all participants, but reserve the trophies for the winners.

If you don't keep score then it's not competition.

Competition is good because it makes everyone (including those who don't win) better at whatever they are competing in than they would or could be without the competition.

"Competing" against yourself, or against the clock, is just not the same thing.

“Competing” against yourself, or against the clock, is just not the same thing.

Why not?

I mean, assuming you really do view it as a competition, in terms of mindset.

The difficulty is in actually treating that as competition rather than a pleasant way to spend time...

I agree. If you are already outstanding in your field (I am outstanding in nothing, so I am not just a crowing winner), competition against yourself is the only option.

The novice judges himself against other novices.
The proficient judges himself against the master.
The master judges himself against his own potential.

"Competition is good because it makes everyone (including those who don’t win) better at whatever they are competing in than they would or could be without the competition."

Meh. Life consists of different sectors: some are competitive, some are individual, and some are communal. It's a sign of social maturity when you are aware of which sector is appropriate for a certain task.

Not keeping score makes young children more likely to continue participation in sport through their schooling, and makes them into better players when they're older.

Their fragile minds are discouraged by losing, you see. So competition here is bad, because it makes everyone (including those who win) worse at whatever they are competing at than they would be without the competition.

Clearly you guys don't have kids.

Having the adults not keep score causes the children to keep score on their own. Kids are obsessed with the score no matter how much adults tell them it's about having fun and not competition. There's more fighting this way, but at least they learn something about dispute resolution.

It's the equivalent of the "I banned gun toys from my house but my kid tore his sandwich into the shape of a pistol and shot at me with itl" thing.

How about no trophies at all? The fewer (or smaller) pieces of plastic junk around the house the better. Stick with ribbons or coins or pins or something else. Kids like to collect things, I just prefer them to be small.

I am aware this has nothing to do with anything.

Actually I think the no trophies would be the most popular here.

I agree. Ribbons > trophies.

How about small trophies? Pins and coins are no substitute for a trophy to display. I know when I won a tournament I wanted a freaking trophy to remember it and show off

Silly question.

The answer depends on what you mean by "trophies."

Presumably nobody, I hope, objects to all participants being given some sort of token - a badge, a t-shirt, a cap, etc. - as a souvenir.

A cup or plaque? Depends on what it says, I suppose. Also, what about second and third place finishers? Should the Olympics stop giving out silver and bronze medals?

I'm all for giving a special award to the winners - a cup that says "First Place" or "League Champions" maybe - but that doesn't mean we can't give items to all participants.

Yeah, it's not gold/silver/bronze trophies or nothing. In many events, it's common to have certificates for everyone followed by a short awards ceremony for "best performing" and "most honorable."

I think that's probably the #1 best benefit of home schooling, you don't have to go to the school twice a year to sit through two hours of honor being given out to first graders.

The interesting thing is that while Hispanics usually score somewhere between whites and blanks on many metrics, here, they are the most anti-competitive group.

The difference in attitudes and opinions between a white, educated, high income male libertarian and a Hispanic uneducated poor female liberal must be vast.

Of course they are different on most issues.

Hispanics are very likely to be Catholic. They come from countries that are very socially conservative and with strong central governments. They have large welfare programs. Equality of outcome is a strong preference for the Hispanic uneducated liberal female.

This is why libertarian desires for open borders is, in a word, suicidal.

So in your mind libertarian desires for less government telling people where they can live and work is suicidal for liberarianism. So libertarianism loses when it is implemented; good to know.

Yes that's exactly what he said

Thanks for translating it for him.

Yup. Willits, we are pleased to present you with this Certificate of Participation in Commenting.

We regret to inform you that you do not qualify for our more prestigious Certificate of Excellence in Commenting.

Greg G in First Place!

Um, no. Consider basic property rights. US citizens own the country, and get to decide who comes in. No libertarian beliefs violated.

So you believe in communal property rights in addition to private property rights? Socialism!

Libertarian ideas are never going to succeed by demographic means -- and that would be just as true if the immigration rate dropped to zero. But ethnicity is not destiny -- America is full of people whose ancestors emigrated from Catholic countries (Germans, Irish, Italians, French).

Do you know how Germans, Irish, Italians and French vote? I'd venture to guess the majority of them are on the political left.

80% of Jews in America are liberal after hundreds of years of assimilation. Is their ethnicity destiny or is this just a Black Swan event?

Libertarianism will never succeed by demographics because the US is the most libertarian nation on the planet. Net immigration can do nothing other than further dilute libertarians. The rest of the world is decidedly anti-libertarian.

The only hope for libertarianism is to focus on specific issues and, above all else, vote against liberals. The mere thought of the lesser of two evils sends them into convulsions. Unfortunately, the American system of government forces them to do exactly that. If we had a parliament, things could be different.

Yes, because she (uneducated liberal female) benefits the most from a low-competition environment.

Her daughter on the other hand, who benefits from free public schools, and who may go to college, ends up wanting a competitive environment.


"They come from countries that are very socially conservative"

Expressing socially conservative ideas and living socially conservative lives are very different things. As best I can tell, illegitimacy in Latin America may have been approaching 50%... in 1900. In any case, the polling data demolishes the Republican fantasy of the "socially conservative" Hispanic (not just the Republican fantasy of the "economically conservative" Hispanic).

Given there was no regression, that graph up there must be extremely misleading. You'd have to at least regress by age for the wage graph... Intuitively, cultural changes over the last few decades should dominate all changes, and since wage and age are so highly correlated...

First thing I wondered was "why is there no regression results" when clearly the data exists.

Libertarians and conservatives are above the mean, and liberals below. Was there another class of ideology such as Other?

Trophies to winners increases with education. Ostensibly, liberals have more education, so clearly one must examine the marginal effects. These two variable stats are biased and hence worthless.

I played in some chess tournaments as a kid. I got a "participation" trophy that was kind of small and pathetic looking. The people who actually won the tournament got much bigger, more impressive trophies.

The "participation" trophy occasionally impressed people who were not chess players, but any chess player knew the difference between that and a winning trophy. I'm assuming that at "everyone gets a trophy" events these days, the winners get bigger and more impressive trophies than everyone else? If so, what's the big deal: there's still a very clear hierarchy.

False esteem, that's the difference. Playing is its own reward.

Recognition is important and reward structures for both kids and adults are should reward both participation and "winning". Even the military has decorations for participating (aka 'campaign medals') as well as for heroism in combat.

Many soldiers argue there are too many medals and they are too easily achieved.

A Bronze Star was an extraordinary award in the Vietnam War. In recent conflicts, they give it out to many above E-6 for merely being in a combat zone.

The quantity theory of money works well for awards.

Many events have commerative tokens for mere participation or completion, like t shirts for 5k's, but tell prizes recognizing the top performers.

The question is whether you should call and make those things appear like 'trophies', and have extra special distinguishing objects for the genuine winners.

As I read it, the question is more relevant to team sports, with the inquiry seeming to ask whether there should be no special object which distinguish winners from losers.

Another, more probative question, could be, "should winners get anything different from losers?" It'd be interesting to see if that changed the results.

Pro athletes get a paycheck and various other consolation prizes, but they are delivering value to capital and get to bargain for this.

Olympians who score below a bronze medal probably get some token gifts, but mostly the rewards are psychic. On the other hand, a fourth place finish in the Olympics might get you a really good coaching job.

So the real question is, why do we treat kids differently than adults? What kind of next-gen adults are we breeding?

My elder daugther got a participation trophy for bowling in the girl scouts. It is sitting on her desk, but I know she doesnt value it anywhere near her first place swimming medals. Those, Im sure she will keep for life.

Why do we r
Treat kids differently?
Because to be an Olympian requires.extreme dedication and training. To win a kids sport most often means that you were one of the biggest kids there. If we want to teach kids somethimg, its not be the best, its teaching them hard work adn sticking with something has pay offs. Should we not give trophies to the almost all the kids in the bottom 10% in weight/size regardless of how much they train or how much talent they have, because they're small? How's that raising a good generation? Kids sports aren't rewarding hard work as much, and nobody is getting some BS sense of accomplishment that they are awesome just for showing up and not trying. People claim that's what being made, but I've never seen anyone show someone who actually felt that way as a kid. We all wanted to win, but it was nice having trophies and ribbons when I was a kid. It helped me earn the real athletic accomplishments when I reached 18 and was finally close enough in size to actually win and be on varsity sport teams and go to States championships.

It rewards medocrity which is a huge problem but more importantly undermines kids' drive and ambition. Many of the best athletes have a chip on their shoulder. They continually feel like they have something to prove and it drives them to reach their potential. Kids are soft these days because of the mentality that we all want them to feel like winners rather than become actual winners. I remember telling my mom not to come to an awards assembly in elementary school because every kid got an award. It meant nothing to me because the worst kid and the best kid both got the same award. I thought it was dumb when I was 6 and I still think it is dumb now.

Aren't the participation trophies as much, if not more, for the parents than the children?

No, it's a fun reminder in later years that you were there and participated.

Fair point. I have a "treasure box" of things from my childhood which serves that purpose. I haven't looked through it in years but it does exist somewhere in my mother's garage. I'd say a ribbon or certificate provide a more practical method of this than a trophy, at least for participation.

Grade inflation.

At some point, you can't do much better than a 4.93 out of 4 in your GPA. It gets stupid.

The lowest scoring participants get cabinet appointments.

Why should only kids that participate get trophies? Isn't that discrimination? What about the disabled kids, or those who were sick on the trounament day, those that overslept, or those that were simply not interested in participating? Don't these kids deserve trophies as well? Think of the children!

Seriously, perhaps higher educated and those with higher household income tend to andswer "only the winners" simply because they have more common sense.

Another interesting result. Most Americans believe that it should be illegal for 9 year olds (82%) and 12 year olds (63%) to play in the park by themselves. (Do they really realize that this means parents being arrested and having their lives ruined?)

Interestingly, while higher income, being white, believing that only winners should get trophies, and believing in a smaller government made people more likely to believe that 12 year olds should be able to play in the park alone, "Strong Republicans" were more likely to believe that the law should also affect 12 year olds. That must mean that there's a substantial wing of big government strong Republicans (possibly also believing in everybody getting a trophy, etc.) that are really lopsided in the "make this illegal" direction, drowning out the other correlations.

It seems as if a kid needs to be in a car seat until he/she is about 14 years-old.

My parents (RIP) would have been felons. When I was nine-years-old in the 1950's NYC, we would walk (unaccompanied) across the Highbridge (over the Harlem River) from the Bronx to Harlem. It was adventurous.

Seen on Facebook: "You voted for big government . . . [picture of a platoon of SWAT troopers at Ferguson, MO} . . . You got it."

True. What Im wondering is whether the world has become less safe for children or we are just more aware of a stable or declining rates of crimes against children.

My daughters are seldom without adult supervision, not by design but by virtue of their activity schedule.

Crime rates have been decreasing since the 90's. So the world as in America is getting safer.

Yes crime averages have been, but the effect isn't seen everywhere uniformly.

The relevant stats are crimes against children, but yes they are down quite a bit.

I didnt see data on crimes against persons under 12.

The decline was not equal among races and places, but it is still pretty remarkable. Firearm crimes against children have almost vanished. Simple assault has fallen fast.

Perhaps the pervasive 24/7 wall of media where any bad news that happens anywhere gets reported and broadcast makes the world feel less safe.


Today i left my 11 year old in charge of the others at home, gave her $50 and told her to bring them all downtown (1 mile walk) for lunch and then walk home. I'm half expecting the cops to arrest me.

In many places that's exactly what would happen to you actually. I'm curious how this will evolve, I guess it's a local matter, some communities will accept that kind of thing as ok and others won't. The problem is most parents don't know which kind they are in...

OP are you there?


Has anyone seen Go Kings, Go! since lunch yesterday???

There's got to be some correlation effects there between crime in the neighborhood people live in. People are notoriously bad at separating their situation from others.

I've lived in places where I would never dream of letting my (theoretical) 12 year old out alone, but now I'm in a place where I can't wait for my (actual) 4 year old to get old enough to go to the park down the street without me babysitting him. (There's a reason for the move, in fact)

When I was 12, I would spend huge amounts of time alone in public, roaming and exploring. We tended to live in good suburbs outside low crime cities, though.

I can believe that, but I'm also curious as to whether all of the people who think that "parents should not be allowed" really want parent to be arrested, lose their jobs, lose their kids to CPS, and be thrown in jail.

Do you really think survey participants think this deeply into a question over the phone? Also "against the law" could mean a ticket or fine, it doesn't go straight to "life is over".

I don't think people think this deeply into a question over the phone, or in a ballot box either.

More to the point, if people are answering yes to more regulation, it's an easy move for the feds to ratchet it down further, because even if they don't REALLY believe that, they're clearly ok with it happening.

@John, there's a story over on Reason about just that happening right now, so.... yeah, presumably they are ok with it.

Winners should be recognized. Then, the other teams/players have incentives to better themsleves. However, participation is a greater overall reward than a trophy. The participant learns cooperative effort/teamwork and that time and effort (hard work) in practice and on the playing field pay off. Also, comaraderie a youngerster needs to learn how to relate to others in common effort.

Here again, a major problem with post-modern society is the weight it assigns to the opinions of women.

'Common effort'? Go back to Moscow, ya commie!

It's not the question that is interesting it's how people answer the question.

Participation trophies are humbug. People in the education biz (of which coaches are an auxilliary) generate humbug consistently and unselfconsciously. This has been so since about 1970 if not earlier.

Coaches aren't in the education business. Coaches are in the "keep marginal kids in school so the educators try their best" business. And that's fine with me.

Sorry, meant "educators can try their best".

No, coaches are in the education business. They are not teaching academic or vocational subjects, but neither are art teachers.

Remind me again what the meaning of "trophy" is?

The severed head of your enemies.

What I don't get is why people are so invested in this question. You can see it in this thread, but I've run into it a million times in real life. People get really *really* worked up over the idea that everyone gets a trophy. But why does it matter?

I mean, even assuming that there is this incredible unwarranted surplus of self-esteem among the younger generation (which I've seen no evidence of), does anyone really think it's because they got a 6 inch trophy for playing baseball in 5th grade, and that ever since that date they've had an inflated opinion of themselves? In other words, the sound & fury over this issue seems all of proportion relative to its actual real-world effect.

I suspect it's because men are natural status seekers, since high-status men get their choice of the women, historically. Norms that make it harder for men to separate themselves from the pack, so to speak, aren't looked on very favorably.

since high-status men get their choice of the women

That's an anachronistic when referring to youngsters of Little League age. Competition among boys - generally congenial - is like breathing. Race you to that tree. If young men are failing according to one set of rankings, they manufacture subcultures which have their own intramural rankings; bad athletes make good hobby shop geeks (or at least they did 40 years ago).

Here is the problem- you should either support trophies for the actual winners, or no trophies at all. My complaint (and likely for those above) is with the illogical answer of giving "trophies" to all. You are right- it isn't the rewarding of a trophy that builds self-esteem, it is the success itself in competitions with others and with one's self that does that- a trophy isn't needed.

What a teacher of mine used to say counseling people on how to mark up a text book: "If you've underlined everything, you've underlined nothing".

What this does is undermine the authority of the coaching staff and humiliate the recipients in one of two ways. The youths are under no illusion that the 'trophies' are indicative of achievement. The response is going to be a Charlie Brown like cynicism ("I got some candy", "I got some gum", "I got a rock [or a piece of clutter from a specialty merchant]"),. Alternatively, the response might be contrived self-humiliation as the youngster adopts the pretense for public consumption. You recall the trope from a certain era, "it doesn't matter if you win or lose...." blah blah. Of course it does matter to all parties, if only for bragging rights.

You cannot tell the bald truth to the young much of the time, but you can avoid gratuitous and misplaced piling high and deep.

"you should either support trophies for the actual winners, or no trophies at all."
But again, this assumes that even the "championship" trophy is in some way meaningful. Remember, what we're talking about in these "everyone gets a trophy" deals is usually 6 or 8 year olds in their first ballet class or baseball season. Even the first place trophy doesn't really matter. What does it signal, that you're the 6 year old who is best able to balance on one foot without toppling over? Or the rare 7 year old who can catch a pop fly more than 50% of the time?

You are only looking at one side of the issue. What about undermining the drive and ambition from kids? What about kids who geniuely have potential but need something to strive for? Participation awards strip that from them and let them believe that whether they are good at something or not, the reward is the same. There is nothing worse than seeing a kid with potential lack the drive to acheive it.

"Participation awards strip that from them and let them believe that whether they are good at something or not, the reward is the same."
This is exactly what I mean when I talk about the "sound and fury" here. Is there any actual evidence, whatsoever, even an iota, that kids who participate in an "everyone gets a trophy" 7 year old baseball league have measurably less drive and ambition than kids whose coaches are stricter? I'm willing to bet that the answer is no, and that trophies (or lack thereof) have zero effect on a child's ambition, drive, etc. This is just something for the "get off my lawn" crowd to rant about when criticizing younger generations.

I think only losers should get trophies, and we should make a big deal of it.

Their tears are enough for me.

For me it sorta depends on the context. For example, this one coworker of mine has a daughter who "plays" Tee ball. I say "plays" because she's five years old. It is a challenge, he tells me, just to get kids that young to pay attention and the purpose isn't really for the kids to compete, it's so that they can learn the rules, learn to socialize with other children, learn to follow instructions, cooperate with others, etc. Why five years of age is the appropriate time to start this kind of thing is beyond me, but that's modern parenting, I guess. Anyway, I think it'd be silly to hand out trophies for stuff like that...the kids are too young for it to have any meaning, anyway. I wouldn't give out trophies at all. But once the kids get older and develop and you can start to separate the wheat from the chaff, I say go hard on 'em. Lionize the winners with trophies, gifts, and social status. Losers have to pick up trash on the side of the road, like they got convicted of a misdemeanor and have to do community service.

I'm joking. Kind of.

This trend is "gamification" of real-world games to match the appeal of video games, which give you "trophies" or "achievements" with a frequency that matches human needs for positive reinforcement. No need to be a hardass and make trophies a positional good. The winners still get the status from that.

I wonder if an online badge would be preferred to physical "trophy" of some sort? Imagine all the facebook badges required to gain status for college entrance! :-) just kidding but only half-way. I can see concerns from parents that little Joey needs to play kindergarten soccer to get a participation badge so his online profile will help him get into college X? These online badges - they'll stay with you your entire life!

At the heart, there's the desire and natural inclination for symbols of status to actually be symbols of status.

William Deresiewicz's new book "Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite" is pretty much about this exact scenario.

I am taking "trophy" to be any kind of award whether it is a metal cup, plastic, ribbon, or anything else.

If the kids are very young, I don't mind them all getting something. Five year olds and such don't understand these games, and absence of a ribbon when other people got one may make the child feel excluded at an age where such feelings are still important. It's not competition at that point, simply fun. In many cases, it is not even optional to not play. Then again, in such matters handing out trophies to the winners probably doesn't need to be done.

By ten years old, kids are mature enough to play organized teams and to be competitive. Sports tend to be voluntary. No ribbons for participating, only winning. When the transition should occur between the two is open, but is probably around years 7-8.

At the end of the school year, my elementary school would always host a school olympics with lots of competitions divided by grades (K-5). There was more than enough stuff that it was impossible for any student to participate in all games, so we had to choose. In essence, that meant the best atheletes (for 5-10 year olds) couldn't win everything so it opened up many of the games to other children although obviously most kids still didn't win. At the end, they handed out ribbons to the winners of all events and everyone got a participant ribbon. I think I was really excited to get a ribbon a age 5 in kindergarten as a participant. I think by 6 I thought it was meaningless although I think there were still kids who were excited. At age 7, I don't think anyone was excited to get one, and at age 8 we were all kind of embarassed since we all knew it meant nothing.

I would have presumed that the overwhelming libertarian response would be "You have no business telling other people how they should be distributing trophies, you statist!"

I found myself wondering this as I was reading through. "Why should I care about this? Let people reward whatever they want," but at the same time I recognize a somewhat visceral reaction underneath.

Truth is, I really don't care - I don't have kids - but I do have and underlying opinion that some reward systems (like everybody gets a trophy) aren't good. I guess it's my recognition that people respond to rewards and incentives, and it matters what we incentivize. Trophies are a way we (we = society) show both kids and adults (different kinds of trophies) what is important and where they should focus energies, so to that degree it matters.

Only trophies for winners, another proof that childhood is as hard as your parents desire. As an adult, even if you're not the winner you get income. The defeated boxer goes home with a nice paycheck. The defeated team in last NBA finals has a higher salary than the winner team. Is there any professional sport with a "winner takes all" approach?

I wonder how long would the NFL survive if all the TV rights, tickets, endorsements income were saved along the season and given to the Superbowl winner? Of course, 50% of it goes to the most valuable player. Who would want to compete in that scenario? In some way, ultra-competitive professional sports are more cozy than school competitions.

As other commenter said, the question should be if the winner takes a bigger fraction than loser.

I wonder how long would the NFL survive if all the TV rights, tickets, endorsements income were saved along the season and given to the Superbowl winner?

Most teams would go under commercially for lack of revenue.

The teams are selling entertainment, which is to be had even if the team loses.

You are assuming that the only satisfaction of playing sports is the trophy. Just because you don't walk away with the championship doesn't mean you walk away with nothing. Every kid grows up wanting to be a professional athlete. Whether or not they won some youth competition is nice but irrelevant to what they ultimately want. Trophies help kids push themselves and dream. Giving trophies or the same prizes and recognition to all makes them believe they have already acheived them. And that is a devastating thought. There is nothing worse than seeing a kid with potential lacking the drive and passion to reach it.

My children do not value their fourth place in age group medal in judo for any reason other than it's a token of their day at the competition, along with pictures with friends. They keep them out of sentimentality. Children, at least ones I've encountered, are quite aware of everyone's real standing in comparison to everyone else and to themselves. That being said, I wish they'd save all that money and not give out that junk.

I wonder how income predicts views on grade inflation? Isn't giving everyone an A kind of like giving everyone a trophy?

Of the very diverse parents, only some of the whites complain and run onto the field to comfort their hurt children. Say, anyone got some good lines for coaching 10 year olds? Here's some from last year:

If we all acted like that, we'd speak Japanese or German.
Courage is what happens after you're hurt.
Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react (H/T Gregg Easterbrook).
Yeah, you screwed that up. Bad. How are you going to help the team now?
You're the team captain, you can't cry. The boys will get nervous.
Rub some dirt on it.
Doesn't winning feel gooood?!

Of course, it does not come naturally to some boys, who can benefit from instruction and encouragement (which they are unlikely to get from their mothers).

"If we all acted like that, we’d speak Japanese or German."

Bad history.

"Courage is what happens after you’re hurt."


"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react."

Bad empiricism. Bad psychology. Bad statistics. Bad philosophy.

"Yeah, you screwed that up. Bad. How are you going to help the team now?"

That one's good, assuming that the question is constructive: 'How are you going to help the team now?' versus derisive: 'Pfft! How are you going to help the team NOW?'

"You’re the team captain, you can’t cry. The boys will get nervous."

Teaching a kid that their self-worth is measured by how well they look to others is never a good idea.

"Rub some dirt on it."

Bad medical practice.

"Doesn’t winning feel gooood?!"

Hedonistic and unsportsmanlike. Worth should come from whether you played to your potential in an ethical manner. A kid doesn't have nearly enough control of the relevant variables to inculcate a sense of responsibility for the loss of an entire team.

My vote is for: It's stupid to let kids play competitive team sports. It combines the worst vices of both collectivism (petty loyalties and blind tribalism) and individualism (players are "stars" and rewarded for effort even though success is impossible without cooperation with others.)

Individual competition is the only way to go.

Because they'll never participate in a co-operative project requiring esprit de corps in their lives. Do us all a favor, Thoreau. Stay away from the rest of humanity.

Cooperative team projects are great. Team projects where everyone gets the same grade, for example.

It's team projects where you compete with other teams that cause all the petty crap. Keep team activities cooperative and competitive activities individualized.

In the corporate work environment I was in, a single individual - even exceptional - couldn't get much done. The folks that made things happen were able to rally teams and even entire organizations to a similar focus.

My coworker had an interesting point on how the question is phrased and how trophies are paid for. If additional funds were required at the end of the season to pay for trophies (vs. the cost being included in participation fee) would the results be similar? What if, instead of asking if kids should receive trophies, people were asked if they wanted to PAY for trophies for everyone?

this is interesting. Set up 2 leagues, where the trophy budget is the same for both, and all costs are the same for both: League A: every kid gets a participation trophy, League B: only the winners get a trophy and the winners trophies are way better than the participation trophies from League A. Which league would have better players? You can test it with inter-league play.

Problem is not that the winners don't get rewarded, its that for everyone else, sport participation declines massively:

"A related study produced a mixture of good and bad news. It revealed that team sport participation peaks at age 11, basketball remains the most popular team sport, and participation in sport by girls has never been better—but frequent participation by both boys and girls in team sports is declining. A closer look, however, reveals a host of problems. Perhaps the most alarming statistic is that by some estimates, over 70% of participants drop out of youth sport programs along the way to high school. Speculation is rampant as to the cause, but no clear pattern has yet emerged. " Ronald B. Woods, Social Issues in Sport 2nd ed.

The idea of trophies for participants seems to me to be a way of motivating the non-winners to keep bothering to do sports. If you base sport value solely on winning, eventually as most children do not win you'll see them not bother to continue. They'll lose out on the benefits sports can give, because to them it will be all toughness and failure. Rewarding the winning class has surprisingly little effect as a whole on sport; it's whether or not the average or losing player sees value in it that matters.

Around that age cynicism sets in

As a female, former collegiate and professional athlete, and part-time tennis coach (individual sport, team sport in college), I can tell you that staying focused on the big picture (long-term growth and development) instead of getting wrapped up in short-term wins and losses is tough as kid, parent, coach, athlete or any combination of the four. I've earned all kinds of trophies over the past 20 years yet I walked away from most tournaments without a trophy. This is a funny fact to recall because the trophy itself or lack there of never mattered. When I see our college national championship trophy, I don't see a gaudy piece of wood; I see vivid images of brutal sprint workouts, tough conversations with coaches and team mates, and touchy sets against team mates where we silently agreed to push each other no matter what. It was the same when I was little. At one tournament, they gave me the paper draw like a huge map of the journey. I can't recall the trophy, but I'll never forget following my name and scores all the way across that big sheet of paper. The first set in the first round was just as important as match point in the finals. When a picture pops up on my parent's desktop from a tournament where there was definitely no trophy involved, I see the friends and experiences, and I see myself learning to tolerate things not going my way. All this is to say that kids aren't crushed scarred by trophy or no trophy. Kids are crushed by parents' and coaches' expectations. I can be hitting for fun with my older sister (also former professional player with nothing to prove), and I'm still tracking my mom's location in the back of my mind. Where is she? Is she watching? Does she seem angry? Everyone sighs, but if I hear her while playing, it's the closest thing to torture I've ever experienced. No matter how independent you child seems, they're watching you. They can feel you shift in your seat when they fumble the ball. They can hear the disappointment in your voice when their loss becomes your loss too. As a parent, notice how you greet your child when they get off the field. Do you have a contorted look on your face because you're not sure they (or you) can handle losing? Do you say "next time you're gonna glove that grounder and throw the guy out, but that's ok!" or do you say "great job getting in front of that grounder buddy!"? The former communicates that their performance was sub-par and that execution is everything. The latter encourages the kid to always at least knock it down and worry about the rest of the play after - growth. When they're hyperfocusing on their mistake or worse, their team mate's mistake, do you say "yeah, what the hell happened?" or do you redirect them and ask how they're going to work on it or how can they encourage their team mate at the next practice? You and their coaches are asking them to push themselves beyond their limits, to improve, to be in perfect sync with their team mates, to maintain a zone where they're not too nervous and not too lethargic. Parents should challenge themselves to do the same on the sidelines. Listen, stick with your kid when things get tough, focus on what you can control, etc. No part of this includes bickering over trophies. Your kid is keenly aware of how they did relative to the group regardless of trophies, and by focusing on trophies as a parent, you're further emphasizing the result instead of the process and indirectly doubting your kid's ability to handle adversity. In my experience as a coach and player, this is both dumb and insulting your kid.

Trophies for the winners also increased strongly in income which could be because people with high income feel that they are winners or perhaps because people with high incomes are the types of people who enjoy competition.

I think part of the answer here is that rich people don't actually care about winning at sports events, so not getting a trophy doesn't matter to them if they or their kid didn't get it.

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