Recently a colleague drew our attention to an article by Richard Hinds on ABC news about Participation Awards. The gist of the article was this: despite cries from a few retired professional athletes that participation trophies are detrimental as they don’t teach kids how to “deal with failure”, the overwhelming evidence is to the contrary. Rewarding participation builds resilience and strength in our kids, both in the physical and social arena. The article confirmed what we already believed from our experience as Trophy Retailers – that Participation trophies play a vital role in the overall physical and psychological health of Australian children. So what are the benefits for our children when clubs concentrate as much on healthy participation, as they do on winning?
A friend of ours played netball as she was growing up. She was not the best player in the team, nor was she the worst. Each year she received her participation trophy, but was never a winner or a runner up. She says that receiving the award never gave her a sense of getting the “consolation prize”. On the contrary, she felt a sense of being a valued part of the team. Now an adult she is a manager of a busy medical practice and can trace her organisational skills back to her days in team netball.
From this one example we might conclude that sport teaches children far more than we might think. Children’s sport is an iceberg and there is a hell of a lot beneath the surface.
Besides proficiency in a given sport, being part of organised sport teaches children, hopefully, the lifelong habit of physical exercise; it teaches them about fair play; it teaches resilience; it encourages them to discover their own hidden talents and strengths, and to consider their own preferences, what they do and don’t enjoy. There is a wealth of fine and nuanced physical and social experience that is garnered through participation in organised sport. After a season of playing together, travelling to and from games, having to “turn up” even when they might not feel like it, because that’s what you do as part of a team; after a season of learning and practicing the skills that make a team “work”, as well as experiencing them not working, a Participation award represents something quite momentous; a milestone in a child’s preparation for life.
There is nothing wrong with being a winner, nor with feeling a burning ambition to be a winner–at Premier Awards we are proud of winners. But in light of the broad benefits of being a participant in sport, every member of a team is a winner. A participation trophy is not a soft option, or a consolation prize. Rather, it acknowledges a truth that might otherwise have slipped under the radar if winning and winning only were the goal, a truth said best by early 20th century sports commentator Grantland Rice, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”