Motivation: Are you motivating or demotivating

Motivation: Are you motivating or demotivating

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images (5)As a kid, I remember waking up, grabbing my sneakers, rushing past my parents, and almost running through the screen door just to get down to the park and play some pick up basketball. There weren’t any coaches or parents. No one was taking selfies, posting dunks on Facebook, or holding up awards to showcase what they were doing to everyone in their circle. It was just a bunch of kids having  a great time. We wanted to compete, improve, and hangout with friends.

Fast forward 20 years and the landscape has totally changed. The day and age of spontaneous fun is replaced by structured play. Instead of kids dictating what they enjoy, many times it is the parents running ragged to keep up with the Jones’s. It isn’t enough to play on one travel team. For many playing on multiple teams simultaneously is the norm. Instead of having a blast, many of these people are burned out, stressed out, and miserable as they seek long term scholarships/rewards. For many, the intent is probably to help their kids build up their self esteem and motivation but in actuality, what are we creating? Are we motivating or actually demotivating these young kids? Are we helping them build their self esteem or causing more anxiety and pressure to succeed. By focusing on winning and advertising athletic/academic superiority, what are we really developing. Are we cultivating our children to become long term winners or short term front runners?

What really motivates us? For many, prizes, money, and extrinsic motivators may seem to be the answer but research has long indicated otherwise. Giving kids participation trophies and money for grades may actually hinder them from achieving long term success. By offering them external rewards for doing things they otherwise would do for the enjoyment, you may actually cause them to have less motivation to do them. What was once seen as being fun and enjoyable soon becomes a job to them. This may be counterintuitive because of the incentive driven world we live in today. Research has also indicated that this too hinders motivation in the work place.

A theory called self-determination (SDT) argues that we have three innate psychological needs- competence, autonomy, and relatedness. When those needs are satisfied, we’re motivated, productive, and happy. When they are thwarted, our motivation, productivity, and happiness plummet. What happens when athletes begin losing? When their production levels diminish? When this happens people tend to resort to rewards or punishment. Rewards have a time and place but must be used appropriately. When people use rewards to motivate, that’s when they’re most demotivating. To help our athletes and children increase their motivation, we can do the following:

  1. Focus on progress and not winning:  There is only one winner in sports.  Focus on progress and not on the outcome.  Pinpoint areas your child has made some great strides.  This will help them get excited about practicing and continue to move closer to mastery.
  2. Focus on team: Nothing is more invigorating than playing on a team.  It is even more motivating when everyone is playing hard for each other.  Express the importance of team and playing together.  Instead of focusing on who is scoring the most points, focus on selflessness.
  3. Value Mastery: Teach your children that hard work and being a great practice player is important.  In Today’s day and age, work ethic isn’t as cool as it once was.  Whenever you catch your child working hard, let them know it’s a good thing and that you see how much effort they are putting towards what they love to do.
  4. Don’t use fear or punishment as a motivator:  Getting mad, yelling, or losing your cool when your child misses a pass, drops a ball, misses a shot, or swings and misses doesn’t get them excited to try again.  It actually can inhibit them from trying.  Some of the greatest discoveries have been developed through many failures.  Reinforce resiliency and a never quit attitude instead. Remember that all the shots you don’t attempt are misses too.
  5. Encourage them to compete against themselves:  A track and field athlete isn’t only looking to compete against the other athletes but also trying to beat their previous best.  Stress the importance of trying to improve everyday and keep track of their progress.

Best in Performance,


Coach Brader

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