Medal after Medal: Where do we draw the line?

Medal after Medal: Where do we draw the line?

I never realized just how many trophies and medals were taking over my room until I started a deep clean one Sunday morning. And it was really interesting. I couldn’t tie some of the medals to an outstanding performance, a performance worthy of an award. 

Medals and trophies are great … if you earn them. I have no problem with getting a first place trophy. Or a second or third place medal. But a medal for placing dead last doesn’t make sense to me. 

Participation awards should not be given out to competitors because they provide false expectations for the future. 

This takes me back to just last year, when I was running the 4×100 throwers relay on a piercingly chilly April afternoon. We started out strong, but it only went downhill after our first leg of the relay. Our second leg fell flat on her face. Pretty embarrassing. And we came in, you guessed it, dead last. 

There were six relay teams and we got dead last. But we got a medal! A medal means that we had an amazing race, right? 


Medals aren’t supposed to be given to high schoolers when they fail. That tells them that failing is something that should be awarded. And it’s not. Not because failing isn’t ok, but because failing isn’t going to cut it in the workplace. 

Participation trophies actually take away from the motivation to improve. The accolades give students confidence convincing them that they’ve done something great. When they haven’t.

They keep kids from feeling frustration and from experiencing the failure of not receiving a high placement. When they move on to the workplace or to college, they are more likely to give up than dig in and work hard when faced with challenges. 

In a study conducted by Northwestern, they categorized scientists into two groups, the failure group (who didn’t receive funding) and the success group (that received funding). The failure group published a high-impact paper 6.1% more of the time than those in the success group later on in life.

Participation trophies have had a massive impact on the competitive atmosphere that surrounds sports. Playing sports for fun is perfectly fine, but when it gives young athletes a false sense of achievement, it can be harmful. 

Most would find it silly if they got rewarded for things they are expected to do, like finishing an essay or getting along with coworkers. Extrinsic rewards, like raises or bonuses, can create a similar problem in the workplace later in life if used improperly. Employees will simply expect a promotion for simply doing their current job well enough, or they may expect a raise, beyond the rate of inflation, each year without being an asset to the company. 

The world that kids are growing up in is a competitive one, one that will not hand out trophies for being average. It is important to stress that rewards should only be given to outstanding performances rather than to everyone.

Participation trophies give young children false hope and reassurance that will end up harming them in the long run. 

On second thought, I have one exception. If you run a marathon, a whopping 26.1 miles, you deserve a damn medal.

Further edits made on 2/11/22