Andrew Sullivan has been running an extensive series on the controversy over giving out trophies indiscriminately to stars and bench sitters, winners and losers, in kid sports. I'm not much of a fan of trophies for anyone in kids sports - I think adult intervention in kid sports should be minimal, restricted if possible to teaching skills, organizing facilities, and preventing mayhem, but if anybody gets a trophy, everybody should. This, of course, is very much in keeping with our hunter-gatherer ancestors egalitarian ethos.
In addition, singling out individual players undermines team spirit and morale. The players probably know who is really good and who isn't - why should adult validation be necessary.
Andrew has plenty of opinions on both sides. Two:
The disgust that so many adults feel at the idea of everyone getting a trophy has to do with creating incentives. If everyone gets a trophy then no one will try hard; if everyone gets basic food and housing to survive, then no one will work. Of course, this isn’t true. A soccer team full of 10-year-olds who all get participation trophies won’t all sit down and stop playing soccer– the kids who are good at scoring points will still want to do so. But the kid who never scored a point will, for a moment, be recognized: You played soccer too.
I don’t know, maybe because the world IS unfair and we’re realists and not delusional purveyors of utopian fantasy?
And my favorite:
Giving trophies to everyone is practically like giving away none, because with the ubiquity comes devaluation.
One approach I sort of liked when my kids were in youth sports was recognizing each player for something he or she did particularly well.