If you don't have one yourself, you most definitely know someone who does - a participation trophy. They've taken over seemingly every sports league in America, and those on opposite sides of the debate argue they're either ruining or saving today's kids.
HBO's Real Sports devoted a segment of its most recent episode to its phenomenon. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find the entire segment online -- how dare HBO try to sell subscriptions -- but there's enough online to give you a gist of where things stand. Correspondent Bernard Goldberg spoke with the executive of a youth sports league (unfortunately Goldberg's subjects aren't identified in the clips so we can't name them here) who said he's never had a parent ask for his or her child to not receive a trophy, and then to an opponent who argued participation trophies remove kids' incentives to improve because the reward is there for them no matter the results.
Then cut to a coach, with trophy in hand who says, "We lost almost every game this season.... but we had a heck of a good time doing it!"
"It's not even a trophy for effort or trying, it's a trophy for participation," says one expert. "It sets the bar pretty low."
Goldberg also spoke to a trophy wholesaler whose company did a whopping $50 million in sales last year.
Speaking from experience, as a child of the 1990's who played whatever sport was in season, participation trophies were already fully ingrained in the youth sports culture by that time, so I didn't think anything of it. It was just a thing that happened after every season; it didn't ruin the experience - or my competitive drive as an adult - nor the guarantee of a trophy keep me coming back next season. I, and most other kids, just wanted to play. Though I will say, as a younger child it made me look forward to playing sports in junior high where not everyone received a trophy, because that's when you knew you'd left little leagues behind and finally made it to the big time.
What say you: are participation trophies ruining the competitive drive of today's kids and softening up an already coddled generation to the realities of the real world? Or do you think kids today have it hard enough already, so you don't see anything wrong with a little mass-produced positive encouragement.