Participation awards have come to be expected in sports and other competitive settings, especially for grade school-aged children. Team members are rewarded regardless of their success so that everyone feels important. This begs the question: is it beneficial to give participation awards? At what point do children recognize that their achievements don’t determine their level of recognition? Will children stop pushing themselves to achieve when they realize it won’t give them additional praise? Ideally, some type of middle ground could be obtained so no one would feel left out, yet there’s still basic competition. Children with natural talent and skill should be rewarded, but so should the child who practiced the hardest and improved the most, even if s/he wasn’t one of the best participants. So where does this middle ground lie?
At such an impressionable age, children live for the moments in which they’re rewarded for their accomplishments. Participation awards encourage children to join teams and clubs, and they make children feel involved. However, participation awards are missing the main ingredient: competition. First, second, and third place awards are key to igniting the spark of challenge children need to continue to work harder and test their abilities.
Perhaps the solution is to offer participation awards and achievement awards. This way, children recognize competition exists, but they won’t feel inadequate if they don’t perform to the highest levels. The option best suited for children and adolescents seems to be giving very specific awards to children, such as Most Improved Participant or Most Valuable Participant or Team Leader. This encourages self-improvement rather than competition for recognition, which is much healthier and won’t create division between children. The goal is to teach children to be the best version of themselves, regardless of who their competition may be. Rewarding the way in which children approach competition rather than rewarding skill level leads to more amicable relationships and greater improvement for every child involved. Creating an enjoyable environment encourages much more involvement than creating a competitive atmosphere.
Depending on the school or sports league in question, there will usually be some type of awards banquet or gathering the children will attend at the end of the season. The presentation of awards is very exciting for youngsters, so emphasizing the event in the weeks beforehand will encourage extra enthusiasm.
In cases when awards are appropriate, the most important thing is to show your child that you’re proud of him/her. No matter what form the award takes, as long as s/he has an enthusiastic supporter, s/he’ll feel like the star of the team. Competition aside, participating in any group is scary the first time, and the most lasting reward is knowing you’re proud of him/her. That said, a shiny award with his/her name on it doesn’t hurt either. Overall, make the experience enjoyable so your child will be eager to remain involved in activities with others his/her age. Even if your child doesn’t win MVP, s/he’ll still be your little superstar.