I was surprised to learn that the going rate for a header goal for a youth soccer player in Colorado is $100. Here in the Midwest, parents who admitted to me that they pay their children only pay $20 for header goals.
Not all of the parents I interviewed pay their kids for performance, or at least they didn’t admit it to me when I lost my objectivity as a researcher and gasped at the mention of a $100 sports bribe.
It seems as though the paying parents are greatly outnumbered by the non-paying parents, however, the use of a reward system for performance is widely accepted. I was a little surprised to learn how often bribery and payment does happen in youth sports and how unaware of the consequences the “paying” parents (or grandparents) seem to be.
Paying players for goals and assists in a team game is one of the worst decisions you can make for the development of your athlete.
“It motivates him to play harder,” one woman told me when I asked her why she offers her son a trip to get ice cream if he scores a goal. “He really wants to get ice cream so he’ll play harder in the game if he knows there is ice cream waiting for him.”
Hmm. Okay. I can see why the child is motivated. He wants to achieve immediate gratification with his favorite ice cream cone. What I am not sure about is the motivation of the parent.
Let’s say this mom, we’ll call her Sadie, enrolled little Jimmy in soccer because she hopes he’ll get really good at it. The only thing I can think is that she really wants him to be good at it now without taking into consideration what this approach does for him later. Otherwise she might make a different decision about the ice cream. For her, it makes sense to get little Jimmy’s legs churning faster during today’s game because logically he will do better in the game. She must assume that his good performance today will translate into his performance next time on the field. What she has forgotten is that Jimmy is not moving his legs to get faster or better at soccer, he is moving his legs because she has promised him ice cream. It is a difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and the best athletes in the world are rarely extrinsically motivated.
Extrinsic Motivation Puts Athletes on a Slippery Slope
He could quit working
Let’s assume that Sadie continues her bribery as Jimmy plays. He starts to get frustrated the days he is playing a stronger opponent and because he struggles to score any goals, he could simply stop working. The only thing that he was playing for was the reward and working hard was not something that he learned to do.
He could miss out on other learning experiences
Sadie’s first mistake was to make goals the deciding factor of Jimmy’s performance. Scoring goals are as much out of an athlete’s control as the weather. The coach could be asking Jimmy to play and learn defense. What then? If scoring is the only way he is going to get ice cream, what do you think he’ll do when he gets the ball in the defensive end of the field. You guessed it, he’ll dribble where he shouldn’t be dribbling, he’ll forgo passing to a teammate all because he really wants that ice cream. It is certain to break down the efforts of the coach and the other members of the team.
It could seem like it’s working when it’s not
There are occasions where the bribery seems to work. Let’s say Jimmy works hard when he’s little because he wants ice cream and thus score goals. The goals get him the ice cream and so he works hard again. He will end up gaining some skill this way, and sometimes the goals start to matter more than the ice cream so Sadie would be able to stop the bribe. The problem is, the goals themselves have become the motivator and they are still extrinsic. Athletes like this could end up playing at a pretty high level, but they will not be good teammates.
I have played with and coached athletes like this, and they can be destructive to teams. If an athlete is extrinsically motivated he will have a hard time being happy if other teammates score goals, get playing time or are awarded and he is not the one recognized. He will choose shooting over the better decision to pass and he has the potential to pull a team apart from the inside. He will count stats and measure himself by the achievements that can be recorded rather than the intangible work ethic of an intrinsically motivated athlete.
Sadie likely never even considered the ramifications of bribing for goals with ice cream.
It’s a parenting decision, right? People have the right to raise their kids the way they see fit, right?
Promote Intrinsic Motivation to Build Teams
The thing is, bribery systems should not be a part of youth teams where the goal is longterm development of athletes and team players.
- Fun should be the reward.
- Recognition for hard work is enough and it should be consistent. (and you should be really enthusiastic about it)
- Point out the subtle ways hard work can be measured, “Hey Jimmy, do you remember that play when you lost the ball and you ran the whole way back to stop them from scoring? That was such hard work! I loved watching that.”
- Jimmy says, “I scored a goal.” “Yes, I saw that. You worked so hard to get the ball and you were moving your feet so quickly. I am so proud of how hard you were working. Sometimes that turns into a goal like it did today. Keep up the hard work!”
Start early promoting the recognition of other players on their team. Kids need to be taught to notice.
- “Shane scored all of our goals today,” player says.
- You respond, “Isn’t that great. Did you tell him he did great work? You should tell him how much that helps your team.”
Cheesy, I know. But you get the point.
If you have signed your child up to learn a team sport then there should be intention to be part of how they learn what it is to be a hard worker and to be part of a team. Encourage them to be intrinsically motivated and teach them how to be a good teammate. Otherwise they will develop into someone you might not have intended for him to become.
Do you bribe your kids for performance? Does it work better for you than the scenarios I described?
Copyright 2014 Meagan Frank Choosing to Grow