Beyond Athletics Recruiting for Parents

Are Participation Medals A Good Idea In Youth Athletics?

mother wonders are participation medals a good idea

(Flickr – barretthall)

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison made waves last week when he posted a photo on Instagram of participation trophies his sons had earned at summer football camp with a caption explaining that the boys would be giving the trophies back to the camp.

Harrison doesn’t believe in kids receiving participation trophies. His mentality is that it’s never too early to teach our kids that accolades need to be earned, and that a participation trophy sends the wrong message.

This sparked a nationwide debate among other sports parents and fans.

And believe it or not, making trophies is a multi-million dollar industry in the United States. With items like participation trophies and plaques steadily becoming a trending end-of-tournament, end-of-season, or end-of-camp accolade in youth sports, trophy makers around the country have really seen a rise in sales and capital.

So this discussion really doesn’t apply to just a small sector of our country; administering participation trophies spans the nation, and it’s only increasing.

So what’s the big deal?

Are participation medals a good idea?

On the one hand, the major argument against participation trophies is that they teach children that “everyone’s a winner” when, in fact, children should be taught that we don’t always win in life.

We don’t always get the trophy. Many, like Harrison, believe that teaching kids at a young age how to deal with disappoint and failure that will help them the most down the road – not receiving a trophy for simply showing up.

Others argue that there are far bigger problems in youth sports than handing out a participation trophy.

Parents themselves, for one, have been a hot topic in how they’re behaving on the sidelines and interacting with their young athlete.

In a time where sports at all ages are taken very seriously by many adults, parents can wreak havoc on a child’s experience in youth sports depending on their involvement. Some also argue that we aren’t giving kids enough credit: that kids are keeping score, and they know when they didn’t win the championship – or a single game. Maybe their joy in getting a trophy isn’t because we’ve tricked them into believing they’ve earned something, but because they’re…well, kids. And they like getting stuff.

No matter whether you think about participation trophies, there’s one page we all need to be on.

Whether you are against the idea of a participation trophy, or enjoy the inclusiveness of such an award, it all comes down to one thing: that children develop a love for the game.

While each parent is different in the way he or she involves themselves in their son or daughter’s experience in sports, one thing is true across the board, and that is the fact that your children will notice the words and gestures you use, and the attitude you have when it comes to their performance and their time practicing and playing sports. Forget about a trophy; as adults, we cannot underestimate our influence on youth in sports. The game will teach them lessons money can’t buy, and trophies can’t cloud.

It’s our responsibility to cheer them on, and let them know we just love to watch them play.


Our scouts want to help your athletes make the most out of their games so you can continue to watch them play. The best way to get started is with a recruiting profile.

About the author
Laura Chmiel

Laura Chmiel is a marketing coordinator and a lead writer for NCSA Athletic Recruiting. As someone with a passion for athletics and education, she graduated from Indiana university with a B.S. in Elementary Education. After school, she gained first-hand experience helping student-athletes and their families get to college.