The Sky’s the Limit


(A Guide to Motivating Our Athletes)

Here, at School of Sport it is our belief that there is a sport out there that every child will love. Typically, Children begin playing sports for social interactions and gain interest in the sport, but mostly it’s all about the fun! These reasons are known as ‘intrinsic motivation’, which is a practice we monitor and develop within our classes, for each individual. To be ‘intrinsically motivated’ implies that you practice your sport (or any other field of work/competition) for your own enjoyment and fascination in your sport.

It is important to us that we promote ‘intrinsically motivated’ practices for the ages of children that we coach, as it is proven that when athletes participate in sport for enjoyment and satisfaction, they typically concentrate more on their skill improvement and growth rather than competition or reward.

There are many positives to children being intrinsically motivated, for example, it is associated with:

  • Better task-related focus
  • Less stress/anxiety when mistakes are made
  • Increased confidence and self-reliance
  • Learn to deal with hurdles or failures better
  • Greater Satisfaction

These are behaviours that we see Children using not only in sports, but also channeled into their social interactions and school experiences.

This, as a concept, can be difficult to explain to children, especially the infant groups in our schools. This means we strive to make sure we get you, as parents, involved in the behaviours and reactions that assist in developing this motivation. At our Holiday Clubs, we sometimes experience children becoming quite upset when they or their team experience loses.  For example, losing a Hockey game or missing a penalty in Football, we even see this on occasion when children find a task harder from one day to the next.  This is a completely normal response for young children, as one of their primary aims tends to be seeing that their parent/guardian/coach is happy with their effort and proud of their performance, so that they may receive a reward or praise. This is called ‘Extrinsic Motivation’, and simply suggests a higher regard for the competitive side of Sport, and more of a focus on a reward.

Whilst this is not in anyway a bad trait to have, it can overwhelm young children and mean that they are not as able to focus on the fun aspect of the sport, which is exactly what we aim to provide here at School of Sport.  As coaches, we aim to be really effective and positive role models for our students in promoting intrinsic motivation, here are some ways we do that:

  • We put ourselves into matches or skill-based games with our students where we will lose and rather than making disparaging remarks, will congratulate the other team and more than often see the children follow suit, resulting in less stress-related tears after a loss.
  • We do not let the children score or win every time. Whilst we aim to keep the kids as happy and engaged with the sport as possible, it is important that they learn how to be a good runner up on their own merit.
  • We praise efforts and not results. Even if the kids are the runners up in the game, we make sure to highlight specific accomplishments for each child within that match.

Whilst our efforts and teachings can assist the children when it comes to sports, we often suggest that they practice what they learn in class at home. Here are some ways you may be able to assist with intrinsic motivation at home (taken from ‘Applied Sports Psychology’, see link at the end of the article):

  • Give nonverbal and verbal positive reinforcement based on the specific behaviours of the athletes.
  • Recognize athletes’ specific contribution to practice or the team; you will be positively informing athletes about their ability.
  • Work together with your athletes to set individual and team goals that are challenging and realistic.
  • The more athletes experience competence and success due to their own actions and skills, the greater their ‘Intrinsic Motivation’. Even with ‘Extrinsic Rewards’, athletes who feel like they are in control of their behaviours will be more satisfied and more likely to continue participating.

We have already seen this practise growing within our Holiday Clubs, which have started this week. We are thrilled that we are seeing more and more children attending our holiday clubs, out of school sessions and lunch time provision sessions; we consider ourselves lucky that we get to watch these young athletes be excited to play sport and continuously develop their positive sporting conduct.,reasons%2C%20such%20as%20material%20rewards