Sports Parents FAQ – part 2 – Motivation


A frequent theme of questions we get from parents centers on the athlete’s motivation, or sometimes the seeming lack thereof.  In our experiences, an athlete lacking in motivation or effort may simply be suffering for lack of confidence and not necessarily motivation.  Athletes are invidiuals and tend to be motivated uniquely.  That said, there are some basic rules of thumb on the most effective way to tap into motivation.

Q: Is it okay to give my child $ or gifts for on-field performance?

Brian:  The sport psychology version of this question is “is it okay to use external motivators to improve my athlete’s motivation and therefore, performance?”  The main goal should be to help foster the athlete’s internal motivation – that is – the fire, passion, and enjoyment within to participate and excel in their sport.  Using monetary rewards or gifts is a form of external motivation.  As a general rule, external motivation may work in the short term, but does not work for the long term.  If used correctly, an athlete’s internal motivation will improve, but it has to be done with care.

More often than not, the use of $ and gifts turns into a net negative, causing:

*focus on the wrong things
*jealousy among teammates,
*going against the coach’s wishes, and
*selfish play.

If the external motivators become the driver of performance, it will be expected time after time.  If the athlete can only become motivated by external factors, well, you can see where it might go.  If an external motivator is used, be sure to tie it into how the performance makes the athlete feel internally:  proud, confident, happy, etc.  Make that internal reward really known and appreciated.

Q: My athlete doesn’t seem to want it as much as I do! How can I motivate him/her?
Brian:  As with the previous answer, the key is in helping the athlete find internal motivation.  Remember, as an adult, if you played sports, it probably took many years for you to learn everything you know about your sport.  The same will be true for your young athlete – it might be a process and take time for the child to “get it.”  And, as I mentioned in the intro, lack of motivation may simply be a lack of confidence in the player’s ability, so be careful how you approach it.  Try to focus as much as you can on the athlete’s:  effort level,  attitude,  teamwork,  and enjoyment  in their sport.  This will help the athletes along the way.  Your job as a parent is to guide them in the right direction, not do it for them.

Q: My son plays for a bad team and is getting dejected, how can I give contructive advice?

Jimmy: A good rule of thumb is the 5:1 praise to criticism ratio, find five things to praise before making a criticism.  Also, try not to make statements that sound demanding or commanding.  Try to phrase criticisms by using a phrase like: “Maybe you could try doing it this way next time.” Remember that you are a role model. Parents serve as the most influential role model to communicate the principles of fair play.

Create and discuss norms of respecting:






*Fairness and honesty

*Importance of effort over outcome