Measuring Words That Motivate

“The biggest source of motivation are your own thoughts…” –Source Unknown

As soon as my children were old enough to put on a team uniform and “compete,” I began looking for the right words to inspire focus and performance. Throughout the years, my urge to motivate continued. However, it is unclear to me whether it was more important to me than to them.

At the tender age of 5, I recall our son’s baseball team had a game one bright, sunny Saturday. It was the kind of brisk, clear morning when a child’s most innate response is to be outside playing. My husband was an assistant coach for the Dodgers, and had the unenviable responsibility of trying to keep the outfielders engaged as they commanded their patch of grass for the possibility of a fly ball. At that age, precious few baseballs make it out of the infield, so there is time to improvise while waiting for 3 outs.

The little blonde-headed right fielder had been distracted by the dandelions brandishing their brillant spring color. He sat down to examine them for a potential bouquet he was considering for mom, when Coach Mike spotted him. “Luke, you need to stop picking wildflowers and be ready for a ball coming your way! Your team is depending on you.” Luke looked up to the imposing adult casting his shadow overhead and remarked, “I don’t like baseball.”

I never heard whether Luke’s sports journey included baseball thereafter; his mom was a country music singer, so he probably picked up a guitar. But for those whose sports journeys continued, motivation was likely on their parents’ radar. Wise parents consistently teach their children, in appropriate ways, the value of hard work, commitment, and teamwork from an early age.

As children pursue sports interests, the goal is to develop intrinsic motivation. It seems a bit silly, though I have seen it, for parents to be yelling “have fun” when their high schooler comes up to bat. Of course at the younger ages, it is a great foundation for keeping an athlete focused and relaxed. But at some point, that directive should have taken root within the athlete’s own psyche. Not to mention, coaches are delivering instructions as well, and the fewer distractions from mom in the stands, the better.

The components of one’s intrinsic motivation can include sacrificial preparation, desire for redemption, love of team, personal pride, enjoyment of the pursuit, innate competitiveness, determination, and confidence. These are lessons that develop over time from life experiences and family values along the way. Parents can teach such principles from an early age. What wise parents avoid is creating an athlete’s dependence on extrinsic motivation because it fills some need for the parent.

Key Tips

  • Lay a foundation for intrinsic motivation with consistent messaging about preparation, commitment, and teamwork from an early age.
  • Allow your child to internalize those values by developing his own motivation without your constant prompting.

2 thoughts on “Measuring Words That Motivate”

  1. Oh, my gosh. Your superb, eloquent writing takes me back to the 5-year-old outfielders distracted by those “dandelions brandishing their brilliant spring color”.
    These articles contain informative, instructive, but—most of all—delightful examples of the challenges of youth sports. I look forward to reading each and every one!

    Liked by 1 person

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