Participation Awards in Sports: What’s Best for the Athletes?

Participation Awards in Sports: What’s Best for the Athletes?

At North Toronto Baseball Camp, our goal is to create the best possible experience for each and every camper. We strive to achieve this by creating a balance between high quality baseball instruction and having fun. Throughout the week, we give out small prizes to campers who have worked hard during drills, games, and competitions.

A few years ago, NFL player James Harrison made headlines as a result of his view on providing participation trophies to athletes. Harrison’s comments went viral after he posted a picture to social media stating that he took away his children’s awards as he felt they shouldn’t be rewarded for merely participating.

As a follow up to this story, CityNews approached North Toronto Baseball Camp and First Down Flag Football Camp to interview our Directors, Jonathan Isaac and Julia Garisto.

One of the reasons this story spread virally is that it struck an emotional chord with it’s audience. People felt sad for the children because they lost their award and felt anger towards Harrison for taking it away. However, this story raises an important general question of whether all awards have a positive impact, and specifically whether there are negatives to rewarding participation?

At our camps, we provide awards for sportsmanship, hustle and most improved camper as well as awards for non-physical achievements; however, we do not give out most valuable player awards nor participation awards. 

We give out sportsmanship, hustle and most improved awards because they reflect the camper’s behavior throughout the week. That is, campers must do something positive, such as acting in a sportsmanlike manner, hustling and putting forth effort, or improving their skills through hard work. These are all positive behaviours that we recognize in a friendly and inclusive environment. In contrast, awards for the most valuable player are often reflective of one’s skill at the beginning of camp and therefore are not based on a player’s effort during the week.

The reason we do not give out participation awards to all our campers is that we feel it is a wonderful opportunity to teach campers about adversity. We help campers see that failure is a necessary part of skill development, and that to be successful one must overcome certain obstacles. Proponents of participation awards argue that they are offered so children do not feel left out. On the other hand, when campers are rewarded for participation they are taught to expect praise without earning that praise and this is can be destructive to building character.

An expression we frequently use at camp is “Baseball is a game of failure”. We say this because it’s different than many other disciplines in life. For example, in baseball, if you fail 7 out of 10 times (70%!) you will make the Hall of Fame as a .300 hitter. Impressive, right? However, if this were a history test, and you received a 30% grade, it would be seen as unacceptable. And this goes for almost everything in baseball! The best players in the world fail to get on base 50% of the time. It teaches you to remain confident and persistent and to see failure as an opportunity to improve.

Whether children have these experiences on the baseball field or in other aspects of life, it’s an important part of their development. As coaches and teachers, providing a healthy balance between positive reinforcement and realistic expectations can go a long way.


participation awards

Gabriel Diamond
Gabriel Diamond

Gabriel is one of the Co-Founders of True North Sports Camps. He coached AA and AAA baseball at North Toronto Baseball Association from 2006-2013. Currently, Gabriel works full-time in real estate investments and has a passion for sports writing.

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