LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
And now from grown-ups at play to kids at play on field and courts across America, in a story from our series called Playing to Learn. From our NPR Ed team, NPR's Cory Turner explores the question, should kid who play sports get trophies simply for showing up?
CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Talk about a spirited debate. Just Google the question, and the first page yields headlines like, Losing Is Good For You and Hell Yes All The Little League Kids Should Get Trophies!! I remember collecting a shelf full of participation trophies from years of playing YMCA soccer. Did they make me who I am or spoil me rotten?? I asked the experts, trophies for participation - yes or no?
CAROL DWECK: No.
TURNER: That's Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck. She explained her answer with an anecdote from a mother she'd recently spoken to.
DWECK: Her daughter rarely showed up for her soccer team. She had a terrible attitude.
TURNER: In spite of that, Dweck says...
DWECK: At the end, she got a giant trophy and would have been devastated had she not.
TURNER: Dweck says a kid shouldn't have to be the best player on the field to get a trophy, but it should reward something, like improvement or team spirit. Next up, Susan Harter, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Denver.
SUSAN HARTER: What do I think about that? I think it's a little bit excessive.
TURNER: Harter seemed to lean towards no trophies too. But it wasn't a firm no. Instead, she reframed the question.
HARTER: At what time of their life do we want to bring home the cruel reality that somebody's better than somebody else?
TURNER: I got a lot of questions as answers to my unanswerable question, like this one from Tovah Klein, author of the book "How Toddlers Thrive."
TOVAH KLEIN: You know, I'm always thinking about, what is that debate really about? Do you really care if everybody gets a trophy?
TURNER: Klein says kids should play because they enjoy playing. She argues it should be intrinsically rewarding.
KLEIN: They don't need an adult saying, you get a trophy because you played well today.
TURNER: So far, the score is roughly 3-0. Is there no one out there willing to argue on behalf of the humble participation trophy?
KENNETH BARISH: Yeah, I think they should. This is a minority view, now. (Laughter).
TURNER: Kenneth Barish is a clinical associate professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College. He says adults should encourage participation. As for the argument that giving every child a trophy leads to entitlement...
BARISH: I just have never seen that. I just think that's wrong.
TURNER: It may be all they get.
JORGE PEREZ: But it's because we want to anchor the experience.
TURNER: Jorge Perez is vice president of youth development and social responsibly for the YMCA, which offers a participation trophy for many, if not most, of its sports programs. A few years back, Perez says, several young men visited him with the baseball trophies they'd gotten as kids.
PEREZ: And they weren't the first-place or second-place or third-place trophies. These were the little tiny ones that they got just for participating. But they have them.
TURNER: He says these trophies act as an important marker to say, I did this. I finished this.
PEREZ: That's why those kids hold onto those trophies. That's why mom doesn't throw them away.
TURNER: Wait - she doesn't?
(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hi, Cory.
TURNER: This is my mom.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I went down in the basement. I was appalled at the number of boxes that have your name on them, and none of them said trophies.
TURNER: She says I threw mine away years ago because they didn't mean anything to me - that is, all but one.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: A dark, plum-colored ribbon with gold print on it that says, Decatur YMCA soccer participant, 1983...Still got it.
TURNER: I would have been seven years old, likely my very first award for participation. I have no idea how it survived for three decades, but it did. And I'm inclined to make that a yes vote in the trophies for participation debate, which means we have a tie - no winner, no loser, trophies for everybody - or not. Cory Turner. NPR News, Washington.