Awards Group to Football Star: Participation Matters

An NFL linebacker drew headlines recently when he took away his sons' sports participation awards. That personal decision has led to a debate about the value, or harm, in recognizing children's participation in activities. The Awards and Personalization Association has something to say about that.

When Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison stirred up a national conversation about when trophies should be awarded to kids—that is, not nearly as often as they are—the Awards and Personalization Association had a rebuttal ready. In fact, it was already posted on APA’s website.

These awards are a memento for being a part of a team or group.

Earlier this month, APA posted a press release making “the case for recognizing effort” in youth sports and highlighting the industry that makes all those participation trophies.

“A participation award is just a moment in time,” APA President Greg Della Badia said in the release. “It’s a stretch to say not being able to handle losing can be caused by receiving a few awards during childhood years for playing on a team. No one is suggesting that participation awards be given out with the message that you don’t need to try. These awards are a memento for being a part of a team or group.”

Apparently, Harrison didn’t get the message—or at least didn’t agree with it. “While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy,” he wrote in an Instagram post that included a photo of the two participation awards has sons had brought home.

Harrison drew praise from some and criticism from others, but the association that represents trophy suppliers says that Harrison’s message was off-base.

“Recently it’s been rather trendy to be negative toward participation awards and to blame them for kids feeling entitled or not learning to be competitive,’’ APA Executive Director Louise Ristau said to USA Today. “But what’s really causing that? Is it really a participation award or the environment they’re living in?”

She added that entitlement arguments that usually accompany complaints about participation awards don’t hold water. “You know, entitlement predates participation awards,” she said.

Harrison does have supporters in the association world. The Positive Coaching Alliance said the star linebacker had a point.

“While wins and losses are not the be-all and end-all of sports, ‘participation trophies’ do undermine the opportunity for youth to learn through sports some important life lessons about competitiveness,” the PCA said.

PCA cited other ways to honor players, such as offering sportsmanship and “most improved” awards.

And Len Antonin, executive director of the Regina Minor Football Association, a sports league in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, suggested that positive feedback was better than simply rewarding participation.

“Verbal awards, saying, ‘That was a great tackle,'” he told the CBC. “Those mean more to kids and people than a trophy that everybody gets.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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