One complaint I regularly hear is how over-the-top we have become in youth sports by providing every kid with a “participation” ribbon or medal designed to help boost self-esteem. Critics argue that simply participating isn’t anything to reward, and that by doing so you actually water down the value of the awards more accomplished and successful kids earn. I have listened to this argument countless times, and while I respect this view, I simply do not buy it.
In my experience youth sport leagues that give participation awards almost always differentiate these from the awards given to the champs of the league (meaning there is a clear distinction and that the better teams and players are recognized accordingly). The “participation” kids, in my opinion, are very deserving of being recognized if for no other reason than simply competing every day and working their way to the end of the season (quite an accomplishment of mental toughness, especially for kids who rarely see the field).
Personally, I can’t think of a single negative that comes from offering a simple ribbon or trophy that tells a kid, “good job, you successfully completed a season.” This recognition doesn’t give kids bigger egos, it doesn’t mislead anyone into thinking they were better than what they really were, and it doesn’t take away from the better kids who almost always receive a bigger trophy and more recognition. On the other hand, participation awards can do a whole lot of good, including the following:
- Fosters identity development provides a source of pride. When kids are rewarded for trying and being a part of a team, they often develop a personal identity through the experience, as well as pride for their efforts.
- Improves self-esteem. When a youngster improves his self-esteem through sports, he usually improves his self-confidence, too. Why is this important? Sport psychology studies consistently show that confidence (or self-efficacy) is positively related to peak performance, meaning the more confident you are, the better you will perform.
- Encourages goal commitment, motivation, and resiliency. Kids who learn that by committing to something there will be recognition for their efforts usually develop more interest in setting future goals. Kids who set goals are better motivated, and also develop greater resiliency for when things get tough.
- There’s absolutely zero evidence that if your child is a star, she will be negatively impacted in any way by watching a lesser kid get a participation ribbon. Enough said.
Helping kids develop a sense of identity, personal self-wroth and value, and a desire to work harder in the future (hopefully for a championship trophy) are all really good things! Kids have enough pressure to deal with today, so if helping them along by simply saying “good job!” increases their motivation for future success, I’m on board — and you should be, too.
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awards, Coaching, confidence, esteem, motivation, parenting, psychology, self, sport, training, youth