You Showed Up. Here's a Trophy!

by Erica Loop
Originally Published: 

My son’s desk is home to the world’s largest collection of unearned trophies. Alright, “the world’s largest” is a bit of an overstatement—as the majority of kids out there probably have an equally as impressive array of trophies, medals and certificates earned for just showing up. By the time that my son successfully made it through his elementary years, he had awards galore, making the casual observer believe that he really is the number one kiddo in the universe.

No, my son wasn’t the best football player (he actually asked his coach if he could sit out, because his uniform was itchy) and during the community soccer tournament he may have tripped over the ball a few times too many for an 8 year old. That said, he has the trophies to prove that he was indeed an awesome athlete.

Although there really are kids out there who are stellar performers and out-compete all others to actually earn a trophy, it seems like more children than not are simply given accolades just for walking onto the field. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for boosting my son’s self-confidence. Did I ever sneer or snicker when he struck out at baseball? Of course not! Like every other loving mother out there I gave him that “Gee sweetie you tried so hard, it’s too bad that you aren’t at all athletic and it’s probably my fault due to my decidedly clumsy genes” look and said, “Good try.”

I’m all for praising the kid’s effort. That said, if there was an award for the most self-confident kid (in every situation, even when it’s completely not warranted) he would win first place hands down. But, the idea of handing over a trophy for no other reason than “everyone’s a winner” isn’t my idea of a confidence boosting ideology.

If your child didn’t earn that trophy, why on earth is he getting one? Does it really put his self-esteem into high gear or is it teaching him that mediocrity is A-OK? Are we creating a new breed of humans who think that showing up earns you merit? Case in point, a college professor friend of mine actually has parents (that’s plural, as in more than one isolated incident) email her asking why their precious, uber-intelligent children didn’t score an A in her class. Um, maybe because they didn’t earn it.

I don’t want my son growing up thinking that he can half-ass it and still get an A, an award or a trophy (even if it’s the seventh place trophy). I would rather that he learns the lesson that he has to work hard and earn things based on his own merit. Wouldn’t life be a breeze if everyone “earned a trophy” as they grew into an adult? Applying for your dream job? Just show up and it’s yours. Want to get into a prestigious PhD program? Everyone gets an acceptance letter.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t support out children, make them feel loved or encourage them to participate in life. Instead, the next time that your little one cries because Johnny won first place at the swim meet and he didn’t even get a trophy, calmly explain that not every can win all of the time. Sure, that metallic-coated plastic trophy sparkles with a faux shine, but “winning” it for just being there doesn’t inspire your child to succeed. I love my son more than anything, and only want the best for him.

I don’t want to call his college professors when he’s 20 years old asking for an A on his term papers and final exams. What I do want is for him to learn that he has to put the effort in if he wants to truly reach his goals.

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