Do Participation Trophies Hurt Your Career?

by Joe Lavelle on June 26, 2012

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If you were involved in sports as a kid, did you always get a trophy at the end of the season?  Was every boy or girl who showed up to play at the local YMCA or Little League rewarded with their own metal or plastic statue?  Or, was that prize reserved for the victors?

There is a growing phenomenon of the “participation trophy” in kids’ sports, as well as with academic and artistic competitions at school, and I wonder if I am reaching too far to wonder about its effect on the children once they enter the work force.

A recent article by Bud Bilanach, a career coach based in Denver, reinforced the important idea that failure, criticism, and judgment are important to build greater success later in your professional life.  If you are never told that you are doing something poorly or that you just aren’t right for the job, how do you motivate yourself to improve your skills and your knowledge?

Bilanach quotes Napoleon Hill from his book Think and Grow Rich with the quote, ““Every adversity, every failure and every heartache carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit.”  I love that!  Learn from your setbacks and use them to achieve greater success than you ever before imagined.

So, that brings me back to the soccer field and the six-year-old kids.  At what point is it appropriate to introduce the idea that you won’t always get a prize and sometimes you need to go home, practice kicking the ball in your backyard, and comes back better before you can expect a trophy?  And, how do we balance that with not discouraging kids or turning them off from trying to play altogether?

I want to know your opinion.  Is it important to plant the idea in kids, in a gentle way, that rejection and losing is a part of life so that they learn to grow from it and they aren’t shocked with that reality as adults?  What life lessons do you think should be learned from a young age to build a successful career someday in the future?

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