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Rethinking the 'trophy industrial complex' and letting kids lose

Should everyone get a trophy?
Should everyone get a trophy?

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No one wants to see their kid hurt or defeated. So it’s understandable why many parents, teachers and coaches dole out loads of praise – and awards.

In school, kids are given gold stickers for showing up, and in sports, they’re handed trophies, just for playing the game. In Southern California, a local branch of the American Youth Soccer Organization passes out about 3,5000 awards each season, because every player gets one.

But is all this praise good for kids? According to author Ashley Merryman, the science is clear, “Awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead, it can cause them to underachieve.”

In her New York Times op-ed piece titled “Losing is Good for You,” Merryman argues that by age 4 or 5, kids are wise to the game anyway. They know who actually did well and who didn’t and by passing out participation trophies to everyone, you’re not only robbing them of the excitement of competition, but the motivation to improve.

So, is it time to let kids lose a few? Are the hard knocks of sports actually good for children? Or should we protect and praise our little ones, while we can?


Ashley Merryman, is the author, with Po Bronson, of “NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children” and “Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing”