Should Everyone Get a Trophy?

Most kids will receive dozens of awards by the time they reach high school: trophies for competing in basketball tournaments, medals for playing on soccer teams, and ribbons for taking part in Little League. Instead of recognizing top performers, however, many sports programs have started awarding trophies to all athletes—regardless of their performance.

Some people say that giving every child a trophy encourages kids to keep playing—even when they’re not superstars. Research shows that sticking with team sports can have important benefits, including higher fitness levels, ­better grades, and improved self-esteem. Supporters also say that trophies are a great way to reward young athletes for their efforts.

But other people think that handing out all those medals sends the wrong message. In the real world, they argue, people aren’t rewarded simply for showing up. If players know they’ll get a trophy regardless of how they perform, there’s no incentive for them to work hard. Plus, opponents say, rewards lose their meaning when everyone gets one. 

Should every player take home a trophy? Two experts weigh in.


Everyone on a team should get a trophy regardless of whether the team came in first place or dead last. That’s because participation trophies help kids celebrate a time when they learned new skills, had fun with their teammates, and belonged to something bigger than themselves.

Trophies are also a great way to encourage kids who aren’t gifted athletes to keep playing—and to reward them for their efforts. Research shows that young people who participate in team sports have better social skills and are more physically fit than those who don’t. Playing sports also teaches time management and problem solving—two things that help kids in school and in life. Not to mention, exercise is good for the mind, body, and spirit.

Trophies reward kids for their effort and  encourage them to keep playing. 

I’ve seen firsthand how powerful receiving a participation trophy can be. Recently, a group of young men who played on a baseball team I coached visited me. Each had brought along the tiny trophies they received at the end of the season. It was clear how much they valued them. Together we laughed about failed plays and remembered how we managed to squeak into the playoffs. We ended up losing in the first round. But that didn’t matter. For most of those young men, it was the first time they’d been part of a team, and they looked back on the experience—and their trophies—fondly.  

Competition is certainly an important part of sports—as is learning to win and lose gracefully. But winning isn’t everything. For everyone who plays, the reward also comes in the form of self-confidence, sportsmanship, and teamwork. That’s why all participants deserve a keepsake of their experience. 

—Jorge Perez
President and CEO, YMCA of Greater Cincinnati, Ohio


We spend an estimated $3 billion on trophies every year in the United States and Canada. For that same amount, we could buy every kid in the U.S. four soccer balls or three books. Every public school in the country could get 122 Chromebooks. 

Instead, we spend all that money on trophies, which aren’t even important. What is important is for kids to learn that it’s OK to make mistakes and that losing is no big deal. In fact, some Olympic gold medalists have said that losing was the best thing that happened to them, because it motivated them to work much harder the next time. 

Rewards lose their meaning when everyone gets one.

Meanwhile, scientists who study praise and rewards have discovered that when adults overpraise children, young people start expecting rewards for everything they do—even if they didn’t do anything to deserve them. Some kids even cheat or lie to make sure the approval continues. Researchers have also found that when kids constantly get praise, some of them become overly confident and arrogant.  

We often say, “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” If we truly believe that, why don’t we give a trophy only to the player who was the best athlete overall or who showed the most improvement? We don’t have to be mean or embarrass those who don’t get trophies. We can just accept that everyone messes up occasionally, and that it takes a long time—and a lot of practice—to master certain skills. That way, when kids finally do receive trophies, they’ll have earned them.

Until then, let’s just have fun—and let that be the reward. 

—Ashley Merryman
Co-author of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing

CORE QUESTION: What evidence does each writer use to support his or her claims? How does each writer address the other side’s argument? Who do you think presents the stronger case? 

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