Recently, my kids went to an event where they both received a participation trophy. And they were both ecstatic. I have to admit, so was I. Why? We’d been trying for weeks – months – to get our kids to go to this activity, to actively participate, and to have a good (or at least a quiet) attitude. And after our endless encouragement and coaxing, it (finally) seemed to be working.
I’ve heard others criticize participation trophies with phrases like, “We reward mediocrity these days!” or “If these kids get a trophy just for participating, then how will they learn anything?” and I have finally figured out where I stand.
I love participation trophies. Love them.
If I had the choice, I’d hand out participation trophies like Oprah hands out prizes: “You get a participation trophy! And you get a trophy! And you get a trophy!”
Because you know what I’d love to have as an adult? More people who were excited to participate and more people who realize the value of active participation.
Decisions are made by people who participate
Have you thought about meetings you’ve attended lately? It could be for a volunteer organization, your job or a group you’re involved in. Think about who is present – it is usually people who care about the organization and are willing to put in time to improve things around them.
When you value something, you make it a priority and you show up. Decisions are made by people who participate. I encourage you to be one of these people.
Getting excited about participation lets people know they are valued
At one of my first management jobs, my (then) boss told me, “You can’t get so excited for every little thing your workers do, it doesn’t really work like that.”
I didn’t agree, so I kept my same focus – recognizing success for each little thing I saw. If they stayed a few extra minutes to finish the job, I thanked them. If my worker had a good tiny idea that made small progress in our process, I gave them credit. If a coworker kept positive energy during a tough moment in the business day, I shared my appreciation.
And do you know what happened? I got great results from my team, I had a great time in my job, and I was so successful with my current method – I was promoted (as the youngest manager at the time) to a full-time leadership role within a year. I know there were many things that contributed to my success, but I am confident that rewarding positive participation made an incredible difference in my early professional career (and still does in my current working environment).
The small things make a monumental difference over time. Get excited about participation.
Reinforcing positive behavior now creates lasting change
I think about every time my kids have participated in an activity that they’ve received a participation trophy. It’s not like we just showed up day one and they’re handing them out – we’ve spent time investing in the activity, practicing at home, organizing schedules to make sure we could attend, and encouraging our kids to keep going. Each of these things have taken energy, determination and focus. All skills I want my kids – and my friends, coworkers and other people in my life to develop – so when at the end of the season, semester or activity – my kids are rewarded with an item that confirms their investment meant something, it reinforces that what they were doing was worth it.
The time you are spending developing others may seem endless and exhausting right now. But I guarantee you this: It’s worth it. You may not see the results for many years and you may never see the results. I encourage you to keep your eyes on the goal and work toward lasting change. Your continued encouragement reinforces others to take note of their thoughts and actions and matters more than you realize. Your involvement is valuable, needed and important.
Someday my kids won’t care about participation trophies. They’ll be active participators that engage in positive change in their community and in the world. But I know that when the trophies did matter, it helped reinforce the positive behavior and made them think about their actions, their involvement and their commitment. And that is a proud moment for me.
I encourage you to spend time celebrating, reinforcing and encouraging others. It may not be a participation trophy, but recognizing others reminds them that their participation matters to you because they matter to you. And that is really what it’s all about.