Of all the lessons we teach in childhood, showing up is one of the most important. It was Woody Allen who once said that "80 percent of success is just showing up."
When faced with the prospect of competition, children often withdraw, feeling uncomfortable, fearful, and on display, while others would rather quit than fight. Confronting the possibility of losing can make even the most stalwart child feel self-conscious and pressured.
Your child doesn't want to be perceived as different. He wants to fit in and be accepted by his peers. In fact, your child will try harder and enjoy a sport more, if, rather than being singled out for his talent, he is rewarded for his participation.
And then, there's the problem of building a team. If you only reward the winners, there will come a point when only one or two children will show up for practice. Studies show that children who were rewarded for good participation during an IQ test, asked for a harder test the next time around. Whereas, children praised for their intelligence in the same study requested an easier test.
Childhood is about teaching children the skills needed for life. If you pressure your child to perform and only praise talent, not only will you make a talented child afraid to lose, but you will also put undue stress on an average child and inhibit his opportunity to participate. Showing up can be half the battle for your child, and it's a positive outcome that builds on itself, giving him a sense of confidence, which can lead to competence. Further, studies also tell us that children who participate in sports get better grades, have a lower dropout rate and girls, in particular, are more likely to go to college.
If you project your own sense of competition onto your child, you are singling him out from his friends. Now, he may feel like an outcast, different and alone... and may even become vulnerable to the bullying and disapproval of his peers. Your child is not a reflection of you or your spouse and therefore, you shouldn't project your own issues onto your child.
Your child wants to be like the other kids; he wants to fit in, and be part of the group - and, in this case, a team. So giving a trophy for showing up can be just the positive reinforcement your child needs to foster better self-esteem and security. In the end, even football players take a salary check for participation, whether or not their team wins or loses.