I found this recent FB comment to Renegade soccer family from a father, Chad, seeking advice on how to motivate his talented son to practice more on his own:
I have an 11 yr old son who LOVES to play and was blessed with size and speed and fairly decent foot skills (not fantastic though)…
…long story short, Chad’s son says he wants to be the best. Chad tried to help him with private lessons, but his son lost motivation and doesn’t take the initiative to practice on his own, so Chad is considering other ways to motivate his son to practice, like paying him.
Most responses encouraged it, or other forms of external rewards like earning video games, video game time, tv time, etc.
I think it is a good example of a struggle many parents go through, including me.
My favorite response to Chad was from Cristi:
I have a different take on this. My son (U13) goes through phases when he is less motivated than others. I let him take a break. He needs to want it more than I want it for him. I will occasionally ask him if his goals have changed and what he has done today to reach them. If he performs poorly in a game, throw a little, “I am shocked you got beat on that play, isn’t the training working? Maybe you need to switch it up.” Works EVERY time. I do not reward him for practice. Hard work and the results of that work should be its own reward. I know it’s hard to see talented kids park themselves on the couch when we think they should be practicing. Trust, I am a control freak, it drives me NUTS!
We can all learn something from Cristi.
As a coach, I have news for Chad: the vast majority of kids well under perform their potential because they lack self-motivation, whether they are gifted athletes or not.
Chad, and most of the responders, falls into a trap that I have fallen into as well. I thought motivating players with external rewards would kick start them into practicing more. I challenged them with rewards like, ‘win a soccer ball if you get to 20 juggles.”
I figured if I got them over the initial hump and demonstrated what some self-practice can do, they’d get hooked.
It didn’t work out like I hoped. External rewards didn’t teach the kids to be self-motivated, it just taught them to seek the treats, like dogs doing tricks.
Cristi’s response has good wisdom.
“He needs to want it more than I want it for him.”
Parents and coaches often want success for their kids and players more than the kids want it.
“I do not reward him for practice. Hard work and the results of that work should be its own reward. I know it’s hard to see talented kids park themselves on the couch when we think they should be practicing.”
As adults, we hear kids say they want things and assume they know the trade-offs they need to make to get those things.
Chad’s son said he wants to be the best. Who doesn’t? Being the best is fun.
Chad thinks his son is saying he’s wants to put in the effort to make it happen. He’s not. He’s just saying being the best is fun.
I want a private jet. It’d be fun to to go anywhere on a moment’s notice. But, I don’t want to pay for it.
Cristi reminds us that it’s Chad’s job as a parent to help his son make the connection between what his son says he wants and the trade-offs to achieve it.
“You want to be the best? What improvement goals have you set this week, this month? What have you done today to work toward those goals?”
Chad might be disappointed when his son says,”Nah, maybe I don’t want it that bad.” But, at least he got the truth (his son really doesn’t want to be the best once he understands the trade-offs) and his son learned a lesson (there are trade-offs, and being the best means putting in effort to get there, not just wanting it).
Then Chad can lower his expectations and just enjoy watching his son play, learn and grow, rather than having his son practice at 6:30 in the morning with a personal trainer (yes, his post admitted to that).