Parents, you’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.

Or just as likely, we’ve got questions and you’ve got answers.

Challenge: Expert Advice

Participation Trophies Keep Us from Finding Our True Strengths

Vote up!
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Email this article


One of the main tenets in parenting, beyond academics, is to set our children up with the tools to function independently as productive members of society. As such, we work arduously at equipping them with the vital and vast skills to do so. And, part of life is knowing that we don’t win at everything. We’re not all the “best” at everything we set out to do, and we don’t all receive rewards, ribbons, and trophies merely for showing up.

I vividly remember as a child taking on my first musical instrument. The excitement abounded when my brand new oboe arrived in a school-wide delivery of hundreds of instruments. I proudly walked home with it, put it all together, and began practicing. But, practice after practice, I quickly realized that I had very little skill when it came to playing the oboe.

It became painfully apparent when I “fake” played through our very first concert because I couldn’t keep up (and worse, I was the only oboe player in the band). The reality was that I couldn’t string together the notes to carry a tune and it became painstaking for me to attend band practice and no matter how hard I worked at it at home, it didn’t help. Everyone knew it: Mr. Marrapodi, my peers, and more importantly I knew it.

After that first concert, I requested to quit the oboe and to stop playing with the band. Much to my chagrin, my parents insisted that I fulfill my commitment and then, I could drop it (thankfully the oboe had been rented). That day couldn’t come soon enough and once it did, it paved the way for me to spend more time on extracurricular activities that I was far more gifted at and that felt far more enjoyable: sports.

In that story, there are so many lessons that I learned as a child. I was humbled to find out that I wasn’t great at everything I set out to do. I learned that failure is part of life (a subject I spend an entire chapter on in my book), and I also learned to express myself in a situation that I wanted so badly to change. And finally, I learned that I wasn’t going to feel good even if I was rewarded with playing in a concert or worse, receiving a trophy.

Participation, hard work and persistence, as was the case for my sticking through a year of oboe, can easily be recognized through words, but not with a trophy. I knew I wasn’t good at the oboe and receiving a trophy wouldn’t have done anything for me. If anything, it would have made me embarrassed. And the reality is, we don’t receive trophies for everything we do in life. What better lesson to impart to our children.

This post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community, where all members are welcome to post and discuss parenting solutions. Learn more and join us! Because we're all in this together.