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Participation Awards: Their Place in Sports

As young athletes progress from youth to high school to college-level performance, a fundamental question arises: Does recognition earned through hard work and dedication yield better results than awards given for mere participation? While both approaches can lead to successful athletic careers, their impact on athletes' mentality and skill development varies significantly. This post will explore the effects of earning notoriety versus receiving participation awards on young athletes' performance as they move into higher levels of competition.

Earned notoriety is when someone is acknowledged for their achievements, recognition that comes from a combination of their talent, hard work, and dedication. Participation awards, however, focus on acknowledging effort without necessarily considering the level of success achieved. Although recognizing effort is important, a crucial difference between earned success and rewarded mediocrity is that the former requires a commitment to excellence, skill, and perseverance. On the other hand, rewards for mediocrity are given without regard to quality, achievement, or performance.

As a coach, I see the benefits and drawbacks of athletic participation awards. While they may bring a sense of achievement and boost the confidence of those who may not excel compared to their teammates, they can also create a belief of entitlement among some players. Even at the college level, I tell my team “Not everyone’s 100% is the same.” It's important to acknowledge everyone's contributions while also emphasizing the importance of putting in the work to improve performance over time.

Many of you will disagree with me here-- but I believe participation awards have a place in youth sports, as they can provide young children with a sense of accomplishment and recognition when starting their athletic careers. However, it is crucial to understand that such awards lose significance when handed out to junior high and high school athletes based on mediocre performances. In competitive athletics, these awards are mere platitudes and do not accurately reflect an athlete's skills or commitment to excellence. With greater competition, athletes must work to hone their skills and continually improve their performance to succeed and gain greater recognition and intrinsic satisfaction.

So how does this tie into Faith? Participation awards harm Christian athletes by promoting an attitude that emphasizes recognition for one's mere presence rather than encouraging growth in their skill set and developing a resilient mental attitude—which are integral Christian values. This can discourage effort and dedication, as well as teach young players to expect rewards without having to put in hard work - contradicting Paul's words in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 "For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: If a man does not work, he shall not eat." While participation awards provide some benefits, coaches must understand how they differ from earning recognition through hard work to guide young Christian athletes in choosing the appropriate athletic path (intramural or competitive). Coaches should help these athletes make informed decisions that offer the most significant opportunity for long-term success and satisfaction.

Distinguishing between athletes who work hard for recognition and those who receive participation awards is crucial for shaping their long-term athletic success. When athletes try to develop their skills and mindset, they typically succeed more in higher levels of competition. Participation awards can benefit youth sports, but older athletes should understand which path is most appropriate based on their skill, effort, and competitive mindset. In my opinion, simple participation doesn't have a place in high school or college athletics.

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