“I would have twice as many trophies but my mom coached me some of the time.”
I coached my kids in youth basketball, T-ball and flag football. But they never got a trophy when I was head coach, nor did any of the other athletes on the team. I wanted all of the kids to play because they wanted to play, not because they were going to get a trophy.
I wanted them to have fun.
In my opinion participation trophies are a waste. When they first get it, the athlete is always excited about the trophy, and then they’re not. It’s just another trophy on the shelf that takes up space, collects dust, and eventually finds its way to a garbage can.
There are better ways to encourage kids to play sports.
Why Some Coaches Give Participation Trophies
Many coaches give out trophies because it is what’s expected. Nearly every youth team does it and that sets a precedent. Coaches wouldn’t want the athletes on their team to feel left out or “less than” because they didn’t receive one. Some Coaches believe that by earning a trophy, an athlete learns about and is encouraged to be active.
There is evidence in child psychology that says there are benefits of positive reinforcement, especially in younger children, that giving a child a reward for their efforts is excellent because it shows them the value of showing up, working hard, and being a contributor team.
But is a trophy really the right positive reinforcement?
Why I Didn’t Give Trophies
I wanted the athletes that I coached to play for the love of the game. It was my job to teach them how to play the sport and make the drills fun. Whether it was basketball, T-ball or football, I tried my best to weave together drills that worked on skills while mixing it up with various activities. And I always added a bit of team building to get to know one another better, which is part of the fun.
I play sports because I love sports, and as a coach, I tried to share that love of the game.
And then of course, there is the environmental factor of giving out participation trophies. If every youth team across the nation gives out trophies every season, year after year after year, that’s a lot of trophies. And most trophies can’t be recycled. (If you have extra trophies look at ways to donate or recycle)
There has to be a better way.
Just because I didn’t give out trophies doesn’t mean I didn’t give out awards. I gave out a usable gift at the end of the season instead of a trophy and an award certificate. The gift for my first youth basketball team was a ball for each player, because none of the team had their own youth basketball. And one year I designed cool football shirts for the flag football players.
And for each player, I gave out a unique award. I would think back over the season and consider all the athletes strengths. Karli might get Defensive Dynamo or Sam the Hustle And Heart Award. I would print out certificates, and at the end-of-the-season gathering, I would tell a story about each athlete and what made them a special part of the team.
Each Athlete Is Unique
As young athletes play sports, they learn to work together and be a part of a team. And hopefully, in the process, they learn that their unique talents add to the team and are essential to the team.
And a trophy has nothing to do with this learning process. Not all young players will play sports as they grow older, but youth sports are the perfect place for athletes to have fun, be active, and learn more about themselves. So forget about the trophies, instead share your love of the game all season long.