Do you remember the day when you were awarded your first participation trophy? These days youth athletes are rewarded for just about anything. Participation awards are meant to praise each child’s efforts for taking part in a competition; although well-intentioned, it causes more damage than one would think. Studies have shown that kids who grow up being praised for merely participating do not want to set forth the effort in trying harder to improve the next time around, resulting in a generation of unmotivated and impetuous false achievers. It is vital for parents and adults to not succumb to overpraising children by handing out trophies for their losses, but rather educating children on how to grow and progress from their losses.
Overpraising children can be detrimental to their self-esteem. A study conducted by a Stanford professor Carol Dweck presented a group of fifth-graders with a fairly easy IQ test which meant most of the students performed exceptionally well. When given their scores, half the children were told, “You must be smart at this.” The rest were told, “You must have worked really hard.”
The kids were offered a second test; one which was slightly harder, but was bound to teach them something new, and one that was easier and fairly similar to the last test. A majority of the kids who were told they were smart picked the easier test and 90 percent of the kids who were told that they worked hard picked the challenging test.
The results of the study convey many important messages across the board, but one is that children are very impressionable. Which brings us back to youth athletes: if youth athletes are constantly rewarded for simply taking part or losing in a competition, they are going to think that trying harder to succeed is not important which limits their potential. Kids are not going to want to put in an effort to improve if they automatically receive an award at the end of the tunnel.
Let’s push these participation awards aside and stop rewarding children for their losses. Adults and parents should teach every youth athlete that making mistakes and the concept of losing are acceptable as long as they progress from their setbacks. One way you can communicate the importance of this message is by relating to them; tell them a story of when you lost and in return worked harder. Another idea is to provide the child with some goal-setting activities where they have to meet a goal to win. Even encouraging the child to put in more work and time at practice is one big step forward.