As a sickly, scrawny, asthmatic sixth grader, crossing the finish line of the mile was an accomplishment for me. I didn’t get a medal, or a trophy, yet I was proud. I had accomplished something that was hard, and I had worked for it. That is why participation awards matter. They award based on what matters––trying.
Participation is important. Without it, society enforces the idea that to try and fail is worse than to not try at all: the concept that if you aren’t the best, you don’t matter. People who win participation awards should be just as lauded as those in first place. They may not have won, but they tried, just as hard as anyone else.
The notion that participation awards bestow achievement for mediocrity is ridiculous and false. In fact, participation awards do the opposite: reward those who work hard, despite achievement comparisons.
The consequences of refusing to acknowledge participation are numerous. When children become over-competitive early in life, they lose motivation once they aren’t as successful at everything as they hope. If children are taught from young age that trying doesn’t matter and winning is everything, society takes away the motivation to persist on trying. Where would our pro-athletes, CEOs, politicians, and musicians be if they hadn’t been given the chance to grow into their talents?
Participation also improves work ethic. By recognizing that someone is trying, that they can improve, and that they matter, society enforces not giving up. One would be much more likely to continue a tough task if they received recognition on the way than if no one validated their hard work.
Without participation, being the best is the only way to achieve success. But this is clearly not how the world works. One can be successful without being the best or highest ranked, and that should still be noticed and praised. Over-competitive societies stem from a lack of appreciation for those who aren’t on top.
Maybe my certificate stating that I ran a mile didn’t mean anything. I certainly didn’t attempt a future in long distance running, and I’m sure it was recycled by my mom within a week. However, despite the seeming lack of importance, it meant something to me. It showed me that trying and succeeding are much more important than winning, and that anyone can have a chance to work their way up by participating.