The Problem With Today’s Blue Ribbon Mentality


The Blue Ribbon Generation. My parents have used that term to describe my generation multiple times, often with concern. It’s by no means an original phrase, I’m sure others have said it before, but that doesn’t take away from its validity. For those unfamiliar with the term, let me enlighten you. As a kid, the only true consistent part of any extracurricular I took part in (whether it was soccer or a science fair) was the blue ribbon I received at the end of it. Now it wasn’t always a blue ribbon. Sometimes it was a certificate, other times it was a trophy, the bottom line is that no matter how I performed I would always get a prize at the end of it all. Of course those at the top received the extra goodies (larger trophies, gift cards, etc.), but those at the bottom would still be rewarded, per se.

AYSO Trophies
AYSO  Participation Trophies, Taken From CrownAwards.com

I remember one soccer season I was on the absolute worst team in the league. I know it sounds harsh, but we all knew damn well we sucked. We lost close to every game and were the laughing stock of the program. I remember one day I was walking by one of the other teams warming up for their game and a player called out, “Look guys I’m from Arsenal!” and proceeded to kick the ball in the complete opposite direction of where his teammates were. Despite our less than dismal season, I was still given a trophy at our end of the year banquet. At the time I didn’t question it, I had been so used to getting an award for everything that I would have been surprised if I didn’t get anything from my coach. But now that I look back on it, I see just how detrimental that trophy really was.

I didn’t achieve anything during that season, but yet I still got a trophy for my efforts. I wasn’t told that our team was a failure; I was rewarded for stepping out on the field and losing each game. Now telling a 13 year old kid that his soccer team is a failure is a little harsh, but it further emphasizes the point that this generation wasn’t brought up to deal with failure. As J.K. Simmons says in the movie Whiplash, “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job’.” And it’s true. If you give a kid whose project got last place in a science fair a pat on the back, a blue ribbon, and a “Good job!” they will only see that they were rewarded despite them being the worst at the event. That mindset will then transfer over to other life experiences, and they will see no reason to put themselves out there and strive for excellence. On top of that, they will likely feel like the whole world is crashing down on top of them when they finally have to deal with their first instance of failure with no reward, which will scare them into not wanting to try anymore.

Now I’m not saying that we should berate our kids when they don’t succeed, I’m not saying that we should refrain from sugarcoating; I’m only saying that we can’t give kids the unrealistic expectation of a reward no matter how poorly they perform. They need to grasp the idea of failure, only then will they find the motivation needed to work harder. We want kids to push themselves to be better; we want them to do their best to succeed. We do not want them to live in a bubble where they will always be given a blue ribbon for their efforts. Once that bubble is broken, then our youth can truly reach their full potential.

Written By:  Brandon Sugars

Our contributor from Switzerland recently wrote about how the differences between his country and the USA have influenced him.  Find out about it here.

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3 thoughts on “The Problem With Today’s Blue Ribbon Mentality

  1. I really enjoyed this post. I am a high school teacher, and this Blue Ribbon Mentality is killing academics. We are a small school, but have as many as seven or eight “valedictorians” because we won’t go in a rank honestly based on class difficulty and number grades. Students will retake courses just to get that 4.0. That isn’t a real 4.0, but we have an atmosphere which almost considers anything less than perfection (however it is achieved) as failure. This devalues honest effort. As a teacher, I find this very frustrating. I read some of your other posts, and feel very frustrated at not being able to be the teacher that you want and deserve. Keep working!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s shame that your school’s system is set up like that, and I think that’s cheating both students and educators like yourself. I’m sure that there are other students and teachers who feel the same way as you about this system, and you hold a unique position as an educator to be able to better facilitate change at your school. In my experience teachers have never really been the problem with the system, they are just forced to conform to unrealistic standards and policies. Thanks so much for commenting and I’m glad you enjoy the site.

      -Sam

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are correct; many of my fellow faculty members chafe at this system. We can’t get the school board to listen, though. We haven’t given up yet! I am thankful you are so active in seeking change!

        Liked by 1 person

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