404 Why We All Need Participation Trophies

Why We All Need Participation Trophies

I played a lot of sports as a kid. I was a perennial all-star in both basketball and baseball up until high school. I had a shelf full of trophies displaying all of my accomplishments. A trophy I never had on my shelf was a participation trophy. No thank you.

Participation Trophy

It occurs to me that there may never have been a generation before ours with such an ingrained sense of entitlement. Rather than bumper stickers touting the fact that your student made the honor roll, I see ones that say “My child won the monthly attendance award”. Well, color me impressed.

I’m not an advocate of making anyone feel entitled but we have a tendency to over-correct. The reason the idea of participation trophies even came about was to correct our society’s glorification of winners. The mentality is that if you win, you’re valuable but if you lose, you’re a loser. Yet another label I despise.

Maybe they got something right with the concept of a participation trophy and it was just executed poorly.

Our Need For Validation

We all long for validation. We all long to be seen. We can never be satisfied by hiding our efforts. We long for recognition. It’s built into our nature and it’s perfectly normal.

Validation gives us confidence and encourages our direction. It’s an acknowledgement that you’re doing the right thing. Especially when we’re on a new mission, adventure or path. It nudges us out of insecurity.

But not everyone is an all-star. Not everyone will be valedictorian. Not everyone will be a world-reknowned for their talents. So where does that leave the rest of us?

Jesus Received Validation

We know that Jesus lived a perfect life. But up to the point where He began His ministry, not much is said about what He was doing. He was likely an average boy doing average boy things (you went to church and schooled the elders about theology, didn’t you?). Seriously though, what most people refer to are the miracles He did after He was baptized.

The thing is that before Jesus ever did one miracle, He received validation:

“You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11

Even Jesus needed validation. What’s different in His case was that He got His recognition before He really did anything substantial. He essentially got His participation trophy, not for His merits but for the fact that He was loved.

The most life-changing validation is love, not accolades.

Earning Your Blessings

I’m not saying that your effort is obsolete. Just because we can all receive love without lifting a finger, it doesn’t mean that it ends there. There are definitely blessings attached to accomplishments.

When blessings are talked about in the Bible, they aren’t always given to everyone. Many times there are stipulations attached. Not everyone can just mosey up the hill of the Lord. Only the one with clean hands and a pure heart can do that. Only they will receive that blessing from the Lord (Psalm 24:3-5).

Pleasure Precedes Merit

When we are affirmed before we make an effort, it gives us the confidence to succeed but also the confidence to fail. We are validated regardless of our performance so we don’t base our worth on our effort. If Jesus was a complete failure, He knew that God was already pleased. Not just pleased, well pleased.

With the understanding that He was loved unconditionally, Jesus was able to begin His ministry with confidence. He was validated before He began. Failure wasn’t something He needed to fear.

God does not glorify a meritocracy in His kingdom. He made it clear that we couldn’t live up to His standard. Once we understand that, it makes our striving mentality look foolish.

So maybe there is something to receiving a participation award. Not so we can feel entitled, but validated. The best validation comes from love. Sure we can earn other trophies by what we do in faith but in His kingdom, there are no losers.


  1. Suzanne Grey says:

    I remember the movie “Cars” where Green Hornet won a piston cup.
    Suzanne Grey recently posted..How Can Hydrocodone Abuse Effect You?

  2. I think you’ve hit on this before Tony, but I really appreciate how you call attention to the bum wrap that failure gets so often. Whether it’s a tactical retreat or a failure that requires restoration, there is such a stigma on failure that it’s tempting to think you only have one shot to get it right. If anything the Gospels record the disciples go through a series of failures until they start to get it right… right at the last minute no less!
    ed cyzewski recently posted..Women in Ministry Series: The Lesser Minister

  3. It’s interesting to think about the motivation found in approval prior to accomplishment. A great lesson for parents (or anyone in leadership) who thinks it’s a good idea to withhold approval. Really insightful stuff, Tony.
    Stephen Haggerty recently posted..True Hollywood Stories: Viral Kids Edition

    • Man, I’ve seen so many people withhold approval and all it does is derail you. I’m not talking about telling people that when they fail they did a good job. It’s about telling people that it’s okay to fail and validation isn’t dependent on being successful.

      It’s only then that we overcome our fear of failure and then can truly accomplish things of substance.

  4. “in Hos kingdom there are no losers” amen brother. We are to show those around us daily the love of God with no prejudices.
    Adam recently posted..Growing My Faith #bettermyself

  5. We are already loved, we are already accepted, we are already whole in Him and it is from that understanding that we can go out and change the world.
    Alex Marestaing recently posted..nothing left to do but drive

  6. Tony I can certainly attest to this. I have two young daughters. One is 14 and the other is 11. I love them not because they do so well in school, or play the violin and viola so beautifully. I love them because I want to validate that they are precious to me. Because they know they are loved, it makes them feel good about themselves, and want to do well at everything they endeavor, and in turn they validate me. But even when they fail or don’t do as well at this or that, they know that I continue to love them, and they pick themselves up and try even harder next time. God Bless.
    Juan Cruz Jr recently posted..Life Journal: Be a Good Steward

    • It sounds like they have a great father! I know way too many people who have only ever received validation by what they have accomplished. It’s a great lesson you are teaching your daughters because win or lose, they know their worth!

  7. well, dang.

    awesome, tony, as always.

    mary kathryn tyson recently posted..awake, o sleeper.

  8. This post made me think about a friend that has a son the same age as my daughter (five). He is the worst loser I have ever seen… well, until I saw his parents lose at something.

    The worst part of it is that my friend tells him that he has won even when he loses just so he won’t get upset. I think we need to learn as children that we can’t win at everything and that might help with the sense of entitlement that we seem to have lately.

    That may have been a bit off subject, sorry about that. I do agree with you though. I think validation means so much more than a trophy or being the winner. I know it does to me.
    jenn recently posted..“Bad” Words

    • You got it, Jenn. When we teach our kids to find their validation in winning or losing, we can become afraid and validate both winning and losing. Neither works. They (we) need to be validated before we ever make an effort. That way, win or lose, we can be confident in who we are.

  9. When my mom moved, she divided up our trophies. I had trophies and ribbons for Bible Quiz, my sister for Fine Arts, mine for Academic Decathlon, my sister’s for History Fair. In my sister’s box was also a green ribbon with the words “I’m a winner too, the judge just didn’t see me” There was no name on the ribbon.

    My sister said, “I don’t remember getting this. How did you know this was mine?” My mom answered her with a silent, sheepish shrug.

    I think my sister would have preferred that my mom just throw that ribbon in the trash. That sort of validation is more embarrassing than genuine.
    kristinherdy recently posted..The Love Discernment

    • Exactly! Validation for the sake preventing someone from feeling bad is pretty crappy. I hope you didn’t misunderstand what I was trying to say.

      My point is that validation comes in the form of love, not rewards. Rewards (blessings) should be earned.

      If we have the right kind of validation before we ever get started, we know that win or lose, we never have to take the title of loser.

  10. Here’s my validation for you: Although you’re not as good as me playing basketball, I admire your effort.

  11. Tony, this post really resonates with me. I read it twice before commenting. 🙂 As I said last week, validation and just being seen are very important to me. The being seen not just for who I am, but what He can do through me, is what helps me to step out into what I’m called to do. Jesus said, “You are worthy of love even though you are unloving.” He called me worthy before I even existed. And, that validation is what beckons me to be greater than I am, through His strength alone.

    In relationships with others, it is those who see me for who I am that I feel most loved by. It is those who recognize my unique qualities, my gifts, my talents, who speak love to me. And, it’s not because they are praising me. It’s because they are validating who I am. They are saying, “I see you, Keri, and I love you.” Those people have taught me how to see the good in others, too. When we are validated, we strive for more. I enjoy encouraging others because it is obvious that it fuels more growth, or at least momentum.
    Keri recently posted..Kickstarter and the Crowd Funding Craze

    • Yes that’s so good, Keri. It’s so important that people see not just who I am today, but who I am becoming in Him. When people see that, they can give the kind of encouragement that makes you believe it is true.

  12. “It occurs to me that there may never have been a generation before ours with such an ingrained sense of entitlement.”

    I read this and said “yes” out loud. I wrote a similar thing on my blog today that people expect even the littlest things as an obligation like someone holding a door for them. We, as Christians, are entitled to nothing. We’re called to serve others, period.
    Jason recently posted..Little things: Kind deeds

  13. Tony,

    That’s one of the best blogs I’ve seen of yours! Love it. I like the “for/from” lingo. On this side of the cross we live FROM validation, not FOR validation. We live FROM being loved and accepted, instead of living FOR love and acceptance.


  14. Great post, Tony. You are right – we all need validation and when we don’t get it from those we SHOULD be getting it from – it creates fear, and frustration – which is probably the reason that many are messed up from their childhood – no validation from parents or significant others. We all want to feel like we’re heard – and we all have stories to tell on how we DID NOT feel like we WERE!
    Cindy Holman recently posted..Shine On Us

    • You’re so right, Cindy. That’s why I believe it’s so important that we find our identity in Christ. When we understand who we are in Him, we receive the validation we need to eradicate fear in our lives.

  15. Validation is a powerful motivator, and something we all crave. I mean, we were created to need approval and love and acceptance. The problem comes when we seek that validation in ways that don’t really satisfy.

    I like Moe’s question: I wonder if there was no trophy or reward, if people would still persevere?
    Jason Vana recently posted..Right Beliefs Lived Out, Not Argued

  16. Thanks for this today Tony. Great post!
    Sundi Jo recently posted..December 1941 – Not The Results I Expected

  17. I enjoyed your thoughts Tony.
    You speak a lot of identity on your blog and I think these two issues are linked.
    The ultimate validation we receive from God comes through our identity. One of being loved, adopted, redeemed, etc.
    I’m still chewing on this one -thanks

  18. Your last 2 posts have been spot on and have led to some soul searching on my end. I want to be sure that I am chasing the right trophy, everlasting life worshiping Him. I don’t want to “run a good race” and realize at the end that I was on the wrong course. Wanting validation is natural, I just have to make sure that I am looking for His validation and not that of the world around me.
    Sele Mitchell recently posted..The Fugitive

    • It’s so easy to get lured into seeking the wrong kind of validation. I’ve done it my whole life. I would seek approval to find my self worth. It’s a dangerous path because when you don’t receive it, you take on the label of a failure.

  19. Personally, validation is knowing that you are not alone in this. Jesus, having always been in the presence of the father, left his “glory” and came and dwelt among us. God’s validation was (at least to me) saying, “you are not alone”.

    The trophy is recognition from others who were with you all along. Watching, cheering, and lastly, rewarding you with your excellent performance.

    I wonder if there was no trophy or reward, if people would still persevere?
    Moe recently posted..No Disciple Is An Island

    • Your question reminds me of the end of Hebrews 11. Many of the “faith heroes” never received their reward on earth.
      Michael Perkins recently posted..On Fear

    • Even more than “you are not alone” I see the greater validation as being “you are mine”. To me, there’s nothing more comforting and affirming than knowing that.

      As far as rewards, I think that God built it into our nature to desire rewards. I believe it’s because He loves to give us rewards.

  20. I played sports, and then played at the game of life, longing for trophies that validated me. Funny, i don’t even think I have one of them left. The things that matter are not found in trophies. It took me a long time to see that my validation was found in Christ.
    bill (cycleguy) recently posted..Others

    • It’s crazy how much we actually love seeing trophies on display. I remember when I finally got rid of all my trophies in my 20s, there was a tinge of pain.

      What I’ve learned is how much more lasting and effective internal validation is. It’s not that I don’t like being recognized outwardly anymore, I just don’t use it as a measure of my self worth.

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