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How to Motivate Your Child

By Touchpoint Media, 01/23/17, 9:00AM CST


It’s no secret that parents and coaches both play a key role in the development of Minnesota’s next generation of hockey players.

But no matter how much we love, encourage and support our kids, the secret to their successes – now and tomorrow – is helping them truly become the boss of themselves.

“We all want our kids to be motivated,” said Dr. Dan Freigang, Ph.D., a sports psychologist for USA Hockey and youth coach who specializes in self-confidence, team-building and elite sports performance. “Self-motivation is based on two things: what players choose to do, and how much effort they put toward those situations.

“For example, when a kid chooses hockey, we know that he or she likes hockey,” he continued. “However, when coaches and parents see that same player consistently getting to practice early, carrying their own gear and practicing on their own time, that means the intensity of his or her motivation is high.”

Motivational Myth

As a parent or coach, you probably already know that your kids don’t have singular motivation. Where one child might be physically skilled, with his or her sights set on being the best player, another simply takes joy in being part of a team.

That’s OK, Freigang said.

“It’s not something where a coach gives a player motivation – that’s a myth,” he said. “Motivation is an internal experience.”

The key in helping young players develop is to first recognize that there are different types of internal motivators. Then create a culture of learning and growth that is open and attractive to all kids.

“Coaches and parents must create an environment that allows each player to have experiences where they improve their skills, where they’re truly the boss of themselves, and where they can develop their identities within a social group (their team).”

Reinforcement Is Key

That’s a breeze when your kid is full of positivity, drive and self-motivation. But what if you have a player who – regardless of talent level – is simply a handful?

As coaches, it’s important to find something in training, culture or competition that allows each player to experience a little success. That doesn’t mean they become the star of the team – it means they’re invested in what they’re doing.

“What you reinforce is what you’ll get,” Freigang said. “For example, if all you do is make a kid skate lines for not trying, his or her motivation goes down.

“The old idea of punishing hockey players by doing hockey things is ridiculous – they’ll just grow to hate the game.”

The best coaches, Freigang said, teach 100 percent of the time.

“Let’s say you have a player who normally gets to practice two minutes before it starts,” he said. “Then, one day, he gets there 15 minutes early.”

It’s time to positively reinforce what you want to happen.

“Something as simple as a pat-on-the-back, or letting them lead the warm-up that day, serves as social reinforcement,” Freigang said. “You’re praising and reinforcing the desired activity.”

In a high-achieving, learning environment like this, coaches can begin to let their players make choices that affect everyone – i.e. letting them choose the drill or game to finish practice.

“When you give an 8-, 10-, or 15-year-old a choice like that, you’re raising their autonomy and level of respect for themselves,” Freigang said. “That’s leadership, and the best way to get their motivation up.”

The same thing goes for parents and their children at home.

How Can Parents Help?

“Really good sports programs don’t separate out coaches from parents,” Freigang said. “It’s not an ‘I’m the coach, I played, so I know everything’ relationship – that doesn’t work.”

Most coaches spend just four to five hours a week with their teams, so that leaves a lot of time that’s unstructured. How can parents contribute?

“The two things a parent can manipulate are the degrees of support and control they give their children,” Freigang said. “This includes things like making sure they have the right equipment, getting them to practices and games on time, finding a place for them to shoot pucks at home and encouraging them.”

So what’s the right amount of support and control?

Support should be constant – but honest – while control varies with age. The older your kids are, the higher their self-motivation should be (if they’re truly enjoying the sport) – and the less you’ll need to control every aspect of their environment. Kids need good sleep, a good diet and a place to play and work on their skills.

They’ll have more fun – all while raising their personal intensity, self-motivation and overall love for the game.

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