Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham
Why do our kids swim? What keeps them motivated to return to the pool day after day? In a recent webinar called “Solve the Mystery of Your Child’s Motivation and Distraction Issues” presented by sports parenting coach David Benzel, in the motivation portion of his talk, he suggested we ask these questions. If they answer “Because it’s fun,” we can dig deeper. If they tell us it’s because we want them there—that’s not a good thing.
Kids have different reasons why they like their sport. They are all valid and if we understand what motivates our kids, we can find ways to inspire them. According to Benzel, going to practices and meets fills an “unmet need.” In fact, he defines motivation as “the pursuit of an unmet need.” If kids like being social and hanging out with their friends, they’ll keep going to practice. Or, as long as they get better and feel good about their improvement, they’ll keep trying.
Here are several reasons why our children are motivated to show up at the pool rather than do other things:
To be with friends. For children of all ages and especially middle school and older, friendships are a big part of their lives. If they have several close friends on their team, they’ll most likely continue swimming.
To learn new skills. What happens when kids see some improvement and are getting faster? Whether it’s learning how to dive off the blocks, improve their catch, or have stronger walls and tighter streamlines, there can be a lot of satisfaction in learning something new. These skills will translate into faster times, which is a big motivator.
To receive some attention. When our kids do really well they’ll like the recognition and praise they get from swimming. Whether it’s a ribbon, a medal, a cut for the next level meet, some kids thrive on positive reinforcement and attaining goals. A small word of praise from a coach can keep kids coming back.
Enjoyment of competition. Some kids love to race while others will compete but it’s not their favorite thing. A competitive spirit will keep kids coming back to try harder and do better the next time. Competition can turn a less than stellar performance into fuel for the next race.
Because it’s fun. Kids like to have fun. We as adults like to have fun, too. Not everyone will continue with a sport or any tough activity if we don’t like doing it. Fun can be motivating, but it’s important to find out why your kids think swimming is fun.
If you notice your children saying “It’s not fun anymore” or “I really don’t want to go to practice,” then most likely what motivated them may not be as appealing or is now missing. Unfortunately, we cannot motivate them because motivation is an inside job. What we can do is try to inspire them. Benzel said inspiration is “a high energy level of the intellect or emotions.” As parents, we can try to inspire our kids by providing a safe and positive environment for learning, paint a picture of what we see in their immediate future (like “If you try hard at practice, I bet you’ll make your next big cut”). Other ways Benzel said to inspire our kids is to tell stories about how other athletes overcame difficulties. Also, remind our kids how far they’ve come along and celebrate their progress.
At this point walk away and see if you’ve inspired them. If you notice an increase in their hard work and dedication, then you’ve been successful in providing inspiration to feed their internal motivation.
Why do your children like to swim and how do you provide inspiration?
Elizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog: http://bleuwater.me/.