Bashing participation trophies has become a time-honored tradition. It allegedly leads to entitlement and hides our kids and future generations from the harsh realities of the real world.

Full-disclosure. I am a parent of three children, long-time coach for 15 years in many sports while raising three kids and the thought of participation trophies was unfathomable to me…up until now.

At MindsetGo, we proudly provide participation trophies and not only do they take on an entirely different meaning, but they are quite prestigious. They are given to kids who aspire to be heard. Kids who have the courage to speak up or are working toward the confidence or self-esteem to eventually do so.
Kids have so much to offer and contribute. Educators, parents and coaches should focus on fostering a safe and comfortable environment where kids can respectfully express themselves without fear of reprisal.

Think about when you were in school at any level. Was there a time where you thought to raise your hand and opted not to? What about sitting amongst your peers at work and being judged? What were the factors that led to your decision to keep to yourself?

Students who don’t participate in the classroom may have multiple reasons for doing so. It could be a fear of embarrassment, self-doubt, or criticism. It could be shyness or they are simply actively listening. The consequences of those decisions can adversely impact and limit opportunities for social interactions and fulfilling relationships in college and throughout your life.

Regardless of the reason, a child’s inability to participate or speak up in classroom discussions, projects or group activities can lead to unfair assumptions about a child’s confidence, personality or social skills. An unwillingness to participate can also affect their performance in school if teachers factor in class participation or if kids aren’t considered for leadership opportunities on teams, clubs or jobs.

When I train professionals or kids who don’t have the confidence to speak up and express their ideas and thoughts, I encourage them when they are experiencing that self-doubt to simply ask themselves: “What is the best thing that can happen by asking, the worst thing by not asking and does the best outweigh the worst?”

This decision-making strategy builds self-esteem through a growth mindset and is an example of a tool that empowers kids to communicate with confidence.
Participation trophies in sports may shield kids from harsh life realities like failure and disappointment, but participation trophies for expressing yourself and a growth mindset should be encouraged and celebrated.

The challenge is not to avoid those realities, but overcome them.