Skip to content

What My Kids Taught Me About Participation Trophies

August 22, 2014

I didn’t even realize they had done it. I’m not sure they realized they had done it.

This is a picture of our “trophy shelves.”


It took me a while to realize the significance of the placement of the trophies.

Participation trophies are a controversial topic. Some people think that the “trophication” (Thanks to my friend Caleb for the word) of America is a big part of what’s wrong with our society.

When everyone’s special then no one is. – Dash

When everyone is super, no one will be – Buddy/Syndrome

If everyone gets a trophy then getting a trophy isn’t special, it’s boring. It’s expected. My kids have picked up a few participation trophies along the way. I still have a couple from when I played peewee football.

And yet, There’s something to be said for rewarding effort. Microsoft used to hand out trophies pretty freely. Here are a couple of my Microsoft Ship It! awards.



I worked my butt off for the EST awards, but the product Ship It awards? I got those because I sat in the Exchange building. True, I was writing courseware on Exchange, but I had a buddy down the hall who was writing Windows NT courseware. He got an Exchange Ship It award. He kept the trophy but didn’t stick on the Exchange sticker.

Other awards, no matter how cheesy, if they are personalized tend to mean more. My current boss awarded me this trophy.


He gave it to me because we had a bet on whether I (or anyone, but I was the only one volunteering) could climb up through a gap in our turnstiles. A gap that is covered with spare ceiling tiles in this picture.


I’m not as small as I once was, (Up Through The Rabbit Hole) but, I was willing to venture $5 that I could make it. I did, he paid up and threw in a trophy to commemorate the event.

I’ll keep the trophy on my desk. But, the fact that it was for something that I did, something that he didn’t think I could do and then did anyway, means that it’s more important than a simple department wide trophy.

I’m not opposed to the Ship It award type rewards. I was part of a team. And, I really like team awards. In fact, I like them so well that I started awarding Ship It awards anonymously when my department at Microsoft decided to discontinue them. (They Switched To A Cash And Totally Blew It.)

But, I’m still concerned with the message that participation trophies send my kids. And then I realized what the trophy shelves were showing me. If you look at the top shelf of the above picture, the first trophy is 1st Place in Beginning Chess. Next to it is the 2nd Place in Beginning Chess trophy. (My sons were in a tournament and could beat everyone except each other.) The round trophy on the end is awarded when a kid reads 50 books in a summer. The two medals on ribbons say, 2nd Place Lindon Mini-Marathon 2012 and 3rd Place Grovecrest Mini-Marathon 2013. And the son who won them assures me that next year he’s going to take 1st.

The trophies on the third shelf? They are participation trophies.

My kids literally put the trophies they earned on the top shelf. While they may not even be able to articulate it, they see value in the top shelf trophies and don’t consider the participation trophies all that important.

I think they “get it.”

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (
LinkedIn (
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

  1. Is there a way to share your articles on facebook, or do I have to copy and paste the url every time? I like this one a lot. It appeals to me as a future educator.

Leave a Reply