A trophy just for showing up? The debate of the Participation Award

December 4th, 2013

I love what I do, I grew up in this business and it’s always been pretty positive. We create awards that people associate with memories, display on their shelves and carry on with them for the rest of their lives. Everyday we field questions from people who don’t want to dispose of their trophies, they ask if we take in old trophies or if we can refurbish and repair old, broken ones. We gladly help any way we can because passing them over can be a hard breakup. They had become sentimental tokens from a simpler life, a younger life, a past life. But as they’ve grown up and they’ve realized it’s not the trophy that holds the memory, it’s us and they let go. But imagine your coach from oh so many years ago decided, “I’m not giving a trophy just for showing up, only winners get trophies, no trophies this year!” Suddenly flash forward 20 years, and you are not at my counter asking me to help you repair your old trophies. Take a moment, think back to some of your fondest memories from youth sports, the times where you remember laughing so hard or smiling so big your cheeks hurt. Is that memory linked with a win or an experience? The championship game or a weekday practice? It isn’t always about whether you got the highest score, sometimes it’s because you were there, you participated…..You Showed UP!!


Let’s face it, showing up can be the hardest part. In a world where weather isn’t always the most cooperative and an age where work schedules can be tough to work around, showing up is the most important aspect. Not everyone can win but to only recognize those who win, you miss the entire other point of youth sports. Everyone has a talent and sometimes the discovery of that talent can be more rewarding than a score. You need everyone to show up, ready for play, dressed and suited up with a good attitude. ”We need to recognize those we are around daily because it take an orchestra to play the big songs and everyone in the orchestra is important in making the music.” (Stephen Capper, A-1 Awards) Without those that show up, there wouldn’t be a game to play or a score to record. It is especially important to stress this point to an audience of youths who are learning and developing their future skills. You are helping to shape an individual who will know and understand the importance of being on time, being prepared and being part of a team. Without that recognition, these basic life lessons can be thrown out and focus is only on winning and natural talent.


To relate this to adult work situation; in business you have 10% of your employees, colleagues, who are always the top achievers, you have 80% who are good steady employees or colleagues that do most of the work and you have 10% who should probably be fired. If you want to have significant improvement in your organization, do you focus only on the top 10% (who are already over achievers) or do you focus on getting a 10% improvement from the 80%? (Peter Clarke, Clarkes Recognition Products)


Don’t loose sight of the 80% because that’s your orchestra. Those participation awards are memories and markers for those kids. I refer back to the people that come in everyday that look to refurbish and repair trophies they have held onto for 20, 30, 40 years because they meant so much to them as a kid. You can bet that most of those adults were the 80%.

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