As children, on Sport’s Day at school, we would all be given an ice lolly and a well done for joining in the activities. There were winners, and there were losers. While I didn’t win many awards on the field, I did pretty well with writing competitions and so on. It all felt pretty balanced. Things have changed since then, with competition becoming less popular amongst parents and a sense of unfairness towards those not achieving as much in certain areas. Participation trophies have become much more popular, and while I would never want children to feel singled out, I think it’s important to find what you’re good at when young.

We can’t do it all, and we definitely can’t do it all well. Learning this as children can help us make decisions about our future, guide us towards hobbies and interests that suit us, and show us that life isn’t always fair! At least we got the lollies! It’s understandable to me that children are rewarded for taking part in things and encouraged, but are adults now expecting participation trophies too?

Before I continue I want to say that I am in awe of anyone that starts anything new or tries to do something they were once scared of. I genuinely encourage and applaud this and am excited for other people’s new ventures. I just have some thoughts that you might be able to relate to when it comes to the impatience that can come with new ideas.

Instant Gratification Society

Everything is instant now. Our shopping, our communication and messages, our access to any film or tv show we like. We also have access to absolutely anything we could wish for, even new partners, via apps. This has created higher expectations and the need for instant results in other areas of our lives, but also increased pressure on individuals. We can see so many people ‘making it’ and want to get in on that in various ways. Years ago, before social media especially, we barely heard these stories of success.

With this constant feed of instant results, we seem to have bred a society of people wanting praise for simply doing something, rather than actually being good at it. Some people no longer wait to hone their craft, but expect likes to flood in for average photos, followers to subscribe to TikTok and YouTube channels without thought, and Etsy artwork that was done in minutes to become global sellers. It seems like people want to be applauded simply for doing something, whether it took a lot of effort or not. Maybe they should be? Should we applaud all activity or wait until we think an achievement is worthy of it?

golden statuette and stars on yellow background
Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on

Participation Trophies

Participation trophies are a reward given just for taking part, rather than for winning or a specific achievement. However, it is understandably argued that just finishing something can be worthy of a reward.


Critics have suggested that participation trophies can create a sense of entitlement amongst children. That no matter what they do they will be rewarded. There is also a suggestion that rewarding everyone can dilute the effort made by people that have worked hard to achieve. Many coaches and psychologists have argued that this is setting some children up for failure and that their expectations of life will not be met. For example, some people work bad jobs, some do not get the sport sponsors, some will not succeed on their first chosen path. There is concern that children will grow up and act with entitlement and narcissism, and that an opportunity to teach that hard work reaps rewards will be missed.


On the other hand, some believe that not rewarding participants simply for showing up can hinder their motivation and effort in the future. After all, just because they are not necessarily the best, it doesn’t mean that they didn’t try their best. Positive reinforcement is often cited as one of the most important developmental steps in children and many believe that effort should at least be acknowledged.

While I’m not sure where I sit with this when it comes to children – likely a bit of both is needed in my opinion – lately I’ve been wondering if this has filtered into adult life too and this could be why there is such an influx of people with high expectations for doing very little.

High Expectations & Entitlement

Bloggers were particularly privy to this type of behaviour years ago when blogging became suddenly more popular and new bloggers would come onto the scene and wonder why their readership hadn’t blown up to 10k readers a month in the first couple of months they had it.

This isn’t just the case for content creators, but also younger people in the workplace. Demands and expectations are higher (which I don’t disagree with at all!), but work ethic doesn’t always match this.

There is no patience involved with this kind of achievement aim. No self awareness. No trying harder to learn how to gain a bigger audience or research into the market. New ideas, businesses, and ventures are HARD work. No good thing is easy to come by. When you talk to anyone successful, the one thing that they never say is “it was easy”. It takes hard work, dedication, determination and consistency to build things up. If these things were easy, everyone would be doing it (and be loaded!).

What is Success?

Success is an odd word, because it’s one that has a clear definition, but a different meaning to every single person. We now have access to ‘successful’ people on all social media channels, on TV. I put it in quotation marks because what is success to some is nothing close to it for others. People appear to become overnight celebrities for doing very little, or businesses open and sell out products within a few months. What some don’t realise is that there is often a whole team of people behind them, but they also don’t see the hard work that goes into their creations.

I think when it comes to participation trophies for adults, the concern is not only that they want rewards for often an average effort, but they want it before they have even got started. People with high expectations of instant rewards often lack motivation when it doesn’t go their way.

Is Comparison Driving Us?

I think there is something to be learned from this. We all have our own goals in life, and some people have very different expectations of themselves than others do, but what we can’t do it compare ourselves to anyone else as we don’t know the journey it took to get there or what has been sacrificed for it. It’s good to have those little boosts of encouragement, but whether you set out to start something or to achieve a specific goal, you can be proud you got where you wanted without anyone else praising your efforts or following your every move. Do it for you and you’ll feel much happier! Coming from someone who always wants to prove herself, it’s a much happier and easier life when you stop caring about that.

What do you think of participation trophies? Do you think adults expect too much from small actions now? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.