A Millennial’s Take on Participation Ribbons


I was born in 1995, so I am a millennial and grew up in the age of participation ribbons and entitlement. And it clearly made me just the absolute worst person in the world.


The argument that participation ribbons are causing kids to think they are entitled to everything has been around for a while, and quite frankly I don’t agree with it. I got participation medals and ribbons, but I knew I hadn’t actually won anything. It was still disappointing to know that other teams had gotten medals that didn’t have “PARTICIPATION” (often misspelled) engraved on the back. I still have almost all of my old awards, because they are a pleasant reminder of when I got to play sports because it was FUN. God forbid we actually let kids have some fun nowadays, right?

There was a time when winning wasn’t everything. I was allowed to quit sports and try new ones whenever I wanted because it was ridiculous to make an elementary schooler keep playing soccer when she was miserable. I tried just about every sport in the book besides softball, and I honestly learned more during my participation ribbon years than the others; I learned how to work with others, include those that may not be the best, be able to accept defeat, learn how to win graciously, and to be kind to both your friends and opponents. We may as well take away the “good game” hand shakes if we’re going to make such a huge deal about stupid ribbons, because isn’t that just lying to everyone too? It blows my mind that the majority of Americans are blaming entitlement on something so stupid and meaningless.

I was watching a video where a man took his tiny daughter’s participation ribbon and gave it back to the coach because she thought she’d won a race. Okay fine, that’s your personal decision to do that, but then he said, “you go out there and you win next time if you want a ribbon.” What’s going to stick with that girl isn’t that she worked super hard the next time and got a ribbon that she was really deserving of- she’s going to remember that her daddy, who she looks up to and wanted to make proud by showing off her participation ribbon, only approved of her if she won.

Entitlement starts at home, not on the playing field. I know, it’s shocking that my parents had more to do with how I was raised than some ribbons and trophies. I grew up getting participation trophies every year, (and no, my parents did not take them away or throw a fit) but I don’t believe that I’m entitled to really anything. I got an allowance growing up, but I had to do chores because they were a part of living in that house and helping the family out. I got participation awards, but I had to decide to get better at something on my own if I wanted to feel like I’d actually succeeded. My parents made it clear that they would never love me any more or any less based on my grades, wins and losses, or popularity contests. I mean, of course they were happy for me when we won a game, and they would try to help if I was upset with how I did, but they made it crystal clear there was so much more to life than that.

There’s all of this focus on how sports are making kids entitled, but I think there’s bigger issues surrounding putting kids in sports at such a young age. I can almost guarantee kids feel more stressed about the thought that they’re disappointing their parents by not winning than they feel proud about a participation ribbon. If we’re teaching kids that winning is the most important thing in the world, then what are we also teaching them about kindness, good sportsmanship, and loving others? What are we teaching them about people like this?

I do see where the problem with participation ribbons is, but in my opinion it’s been blown entirely out of proportion. If the problem is that parents are baffled about what to say to their kids when they get old enough to not get a ribbon, then the proper lessons weren’t being taught along the way. I think there’s more pressure on kids now more than ever to succeed at everything they do, and they need positive reinforcement from adults in their lives, even if they fail. My parents cheered when I failed my first college exam to prove that even failure can be celebrated. I would rather my kid learn how to be coach-able and kind and be rewarded for participating than only reward them for winning something, despite how they treated others and their coach. Little kids need something like a small tangible item to learn to be proud of their accomplishments, even if adults don’t see it as an accomplishment. My brain was not big enough at that age to understand why someone would be upset about something so little, but I was capable of understanding other lessons my parents deemed more important. They taught me about entitlement by volunteering as a family, talking about what I learned in Sunday school and how I could help others, and not giving me every little thing I wanted. They taught me about putting some of my allowance into savings and putting some aside to help other people. They were never disappointed with a grade I got if I had truly given it my all.

Leave the participation ribbons alone- is it really the worst thing in the world to let a child feel good knowing that they went to practice every week and tried their hardest during games? Everyone gets a minimum wage for showing up and doing their work, so I just don’t see how getting a small reward for committing to something when you’re that little is so horrendous. Entitlement comes from lessons and discussions outside of that one pizza party at the end of the season, so just let the kids be kids for a while.



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