Tag Archives: Competence

How To Motivate A Child To Practice For Their Sport

To Push Or Not To Push Practice On A Child?

It’s a coaching and parenting dilemma: you know that practice will benefit a child but they are resistant to it. How hard should you “push the practice”?

Do you strategically back off and let them experience some “failure” in the hope that it will motivate them to practice next time? Or will this risk them becoming disinterested in something that – if you had insisted on a bit more practice – they would have much more enjoyed and found success with?

We may need to completely change the way we approach this issue and look for the answer in self-determination theory.

Self Determination Theory

Self determination theory examines what is behind internally-driven behaviour. 

The theory tells us that people have three basic needs when it comes to being internally motivated:

1. Autonomy

Autonomy involves having some freedom and control and being able to determine your own path.

2. Competence

Competence involves feeling that you have some type of skill or mastery, and are effective or useful at something.

3. Connection

Connection is a feeling of affiliation with a person, a group, an organisation, or a cause. 

The Motivational Climate

Not all forms of motivation are created equal. Internally-driven motivation represents is a high-quality form of motivation whereas externally-driven motivation (e.g. being pushed) is generally accepted as being lower-quality motivation.

Having knowledge of self-determination theory allows you to strategically cultivate a positive motivational environment around the child.

Tips To Motivate A Child To Practice

Ideally, practice should ultimately be the child’s idea, but there is much that we can do to positively influence their decision:

1. Aid Autonomy

A coach can aid an autonomous environment by:

  • Providing a child with choice. e.g. Let them choose what coloured ball they would like to use or determine the difficulty of the task they are going to undertake.
  • Asking for their opinion. e.g. Ask them what they thought about your new game.
  • Giving them a say. E.g. Ask them what they would like to do at practice today or next time.
  • Showing them that you are willing to listen. i.e. Take action in response to their suggestions and opinions.

2. Create Confidence

If we can quickly prove to a child that practice will make them better at something, they are more likely to be motivated to do it. A coach can create confidence by:

  • Ensuring some early and frequent (but not constant) success. Success builds belief.
  • Matching tasks carefully with the individual. Keep activities within a child’s realistic skillset, with just the right amount of challenge.
  • Providing lots of specific encouragement and positive feedback.

3. Curate Connection

A strong social connection will make it more likely a child will want to practice. Coaches can positively influence the building of social connections by:

  • Strategically inserting cooperative or team-building activities into a session. e.g. A challenge in which the kids need to work with a partner or group.
  • Providing a space for the kids to talk and interact.
  • Getting to know the kids as people.


The question of how hard to “push practice” may become irrelevant.

If you:

  1. Aid autonomy
  2. Create confidence
  3. Curate connection

you don’t need to “push” it at all.

If this post helped you please take a moment to help others by sharing it on social media. If you want to learn more I encourage you to leave questions and comments or contact me directly.

Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes, and founder of the blog coachingyoungathletes.com. Learn more about him here and connect with him on TwitterFacebookLinkedin, or via email. Check out Coaching Young Athletes on YouTube, the Coaching Young Athletes podcast, and the Coaching Young Athletes E-Book Series.

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