Top 5 Reasons Why People Give Awards

Awards can be a powerful source of motivation in any situation, whether it be competitive or not. Specifically, it acts as extrinsic motivation – if someone is extrinsically motivated for something, then they’re putting effort into a task because of the reward at the end of it. If compensation within a set of conditions and qualifications is established prior, then extrinsic motivation can work to encourage individuals to achieve a desired goal. Let’s go through the 5 most common reasons that people give each other awards.

1. Contests & Tournaments

Whether it’s a hot-dog eating contest or a trek across the world, contests and tournaments usually call for a reward at the end when someone comes out victorious.


While intrinsic joy and achievement are big motivators for most people that enter competitions, the extrinsic motivation of earning a material prize at the end can often be the main reason that someone participates and competes. At the end of the competition, you not only win the satisfaction of being champion – there’s typically an award that symbolizes winning in the form of a medal or trophy in addition to a valuable prize.

Game Tournaments

From sports to video games, there’s a tournament for anything that’s competitive. Typically, rewards are given out to either participants within a winning team or a sole few winners, depending on the nature of the game. One of the biggest pulls for game tournaments is the extrinsic motivation of winning a cash prize, as is customary for tournament style competitions. Traditional awards, like medals and trophies, are also given out to symbolize the victory.

Cooking Contests

In the context of a cooking contest, participants are pitted against each other to determine who is the best at cooking a specific type of food – this usually manifests in the realm of BBQ competitions or chili-cook-offs. Cooking contests can either be for amateurs or professionals, sometimes being televised as reality shows. The stakes are usually a cash prize, with participants getting eliminated as the contests goes on to find out who’s the best of the best. In addition to a valuable prize and a cooking contest award, participants also feel satisfied in winning a signifier of their cooking skill.


If competitors are trying to do something faster than everyone else, it qualifies as a race. Speed is the name of the game, whether it’s a car race, bike race, or running race. Usually, racing tournaments can span across multiple competitions that lead up to a larger final championship, determining the ultimate winner. In a sport like NASCAR, several racing championships are held throughout the year. At the end of ever championship, a winner comes out victorious and is awarded a large trophy that signifies that year’s racing championship cup.

2. Athletic Awards

In any competitive sport, awards are given to the championing party – whether it’s a team effort or a solo venture.

Team Trophies

Sports is one of the best activities for team-building, so it makes sense that teams would be rewarded as a unit when some type of sport competition is won. Not only does competing and winning an athletic competition bring intrinsic rewards of teamwork and accomplishment, but it also typically comes with the extrinsic reward of a trophy or team plaque. Typically, if the team is part of a school, then their teamwork award will be displayed for years to come in order to inspire and motivate future teams.


While sports put a huge focus on teamwork, it can also be valuable to recognize specific players that go above and beyond in their role and in what they do for the team. An MVP, or most valuable player, award recognizes those players and motivates other team members to work harder in order to earn that same recognition.

Coach of the Year

Sometimes, the MVP of the team is the coach – a Coach of the Year award is usually given by team members who want to show their appreciation. Coaches typically aren’t motivated purely because they want this type of award, but it’s a nice gesture that recognizes hard work and symbolizes a team’s happiness and support. Schools can also give coaches awards based on their performance, which crosses into the realm of employee recognition awards. 

3. Employee Recognition Awards

Encouraging employees to do work well and go out of their way to benefit the business is important work to do as a manager. One of the best ways to accomplish this is extrinsic motivation via employee recognition awards.

Peer Nominations

Companies often call on their employees to nominate a peer that they feel is doing exceptional work within the company; this is called a peer nomination award. In some companies, a peer nomination award comes around on regular intervals. In others, a peer nomination may come out of a unique occasion that calls for it, such as an employee expertly handling a difficult situation. These awards recognize employees for making a difference in the workplace, as recognized by their fellow employees.

Employee of the Month

Most businesses reward a specific employee every month, recognizing them as “Employee of the Month” for doing great work. This award can be decided by peers but is usually decided by the higher-ups in a company that directly manage employees. Employee of the Month awards typically take the form of an engraved nameplate on a perpetual plaque that also includes all past winners, which is slowly added to over time.

Time with Company

At certain milestones, companies may reward employees who have worked there for long periods of time. These awards are typically given out at specific intervals, such as 5- or 10-year spans of time. This type of award is a good way to recognize company veterans and reward them for staying loyal to the company.

4. Student Recognition Awards

When encouraging positive behavior in students, teachers and school staff can recognize them by giving them student recognition awards.

Accident Preventions/Safety

Maintaining classroom safety is important, especially when it comes to younger students. For this reason, encouraging accident prevention and safe behavior within the classroom through rewards is a great way to keep the environment safe. Students can be recognized for this behavior with small reward like candy, toys or certificates.

Honor Roll

As a long-standing academic tradition, students are recognized every school year quarter/semester for earning good grades in their classes in “Honor Roll.” This honor is often a large motivator among young students to get good grades, wanting to be part of the ceremony where they’re recognized on stage and given a certificate and/or Honor Roll medal. Getting on this list of high-achievers for the first time can be a big deal to some students, as it signifies that they’re on a good path of academic well-standing and success.

National Honor Society

National Honor Society, typically abbreviated to NHS, is an academic organization that students must qualify for in order to be inducted. As the name suggests, it’s an honor to be part of NHS, so many students earn recognition for their participation upon graduation. Typically, students receive a graduation cord or medal that signifies their membership.

5. Religious Awards

Both religious leaders and church members can receive awards for their work and devotion within the realm of spirituality and their congregation.

Pastor/Church Leader Appreciation

When a pastor or church leader makes a huge difference in someone’s life, which they often do, their congregation can present them with appreciation awards for all the work that they do. This type of award, usually given in the form of a plaque, is like a Coach of the Year award in that it recognizes a leader for what they’ve done for a specific group of people.

Religious & Spiritual Understanding

Awards that signify religious and spiritual growth are usually given by pastors or church leaders to show that a specific member of the church has reached a major point of progress in their spiritual journey. An award like this can be an especially powerful symbol – especially for someone who may have experienced immense struggle to get to the point they’re at today. Rewarding them for their effort can prove to be the encouragement they need to keep going and a symbol that reassures they’re on the right path.

Do Awards Always Work?
While awards can be powerful extrinsic motivators, they can also backfire. Some people who didn’t receive awards may feel left out, or the timing of an award may not be the most effective. For an award to work as extrinsic motivation, it needs to be meaningful, come at the right time, and be properly distributed so that everyone who deserves an award gets one. If conditions and qualifications aren’t clear from the beginning, then motivation isn’t as effective and people will end up disappointed.