How Positive Memories Build Motivation

Last fall we took our Under-13 soccer teams to ISKL to have some friendly competition. My friend, Rob Whiting, and I think pretty much the same way so we designed a great afternoon that has left a lasting picture in my mind. We have 27 boys and 15 girls for our 7 aside teams. We both dislike excluding anyone who comes out and wants to have a “go”. So we decided to each have 3 boys teams and 2 girls teams and play a series of 30 minute games. When we had finished, Rob and I hardly knew the score of any of the games, but we called all of the athletes together and complemented them for having such a good afternoon and playing so hard with such good sportsmanship. Everyone played for a long time.

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On the way back to the bus the athletes all starting asking about the next game. The spirit on the bus ride home was very high. The formula for building a positive experience for athletes seems to be to structure games so that everyone plays for a long time in an intensive manner and the score is secondary. There is a place for the score and competition, but when we take it beyond moderation, it has the ability to do more damage than good.

It is difficult for young people and adults to get into an environment of learning and effort when they are being graded and judged every step of the way in comparison to others.   What seems to keep young people coming out is to give them a great deal of individual positive attention on what you as a coach or parent see as positive, to push them in growth areas, and to have lots of opportunity to play.    Everyone seems to come to sport with a different purpose; some are positive, while others are destructive.   Young people mostly want to play.  They tolerate skill building because they know that it might lead to play.   Parents seem to be motivated by having their children learn some skills and coaches are best motivated by developing a group of young people in multiple dimensions.

The bad stuff seems to come from the over emphasis on the score because the score is where people seem to get most of their recognition.    If coaches and parents were to increase the amount of recognition given to individual plays, then score wouldn’t matter so much.   I am not saying that keeping score or giving grades is bad, but it should be about 10% of the attention focus rather than 90%.    Runners in road races seem to have it together much better than most groups.   When you run in a race, you get a t-shirt and a medal, and that is just for participating.   The winners get an extra prize like money, but rewarding everyone for finishing and participating just gives a really positive feeling to running events and keeps them increasing in size.

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