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As part of my Sports Coaching & Exercise Degree at Hartlepool College of FE I get access to the very latest scientific research etc… but every so often (like about 10 mins ago) you come across a journal that was published years ago but still identifies with today.

The journal in question is ‘Phsyical Activity and Intrinsic Motivation‘ by James R. Whitehead, which was published in 1993.

The name is self explanatory, and the journal starts with a great quote which I’ve copied below:

‘Children are born intrinsically motivated to be physically active . That motivation —if kept alive by physical success, freedom, and fun—will do more than promote the fitness behaviors that add years to life. It will maintain the physical zest that adds life to the years’

I particularly liked the ‘Applying Theory to Practise’ paragraphs as they are simple snippets of information that can make a massive difference to us as instructors/coaches/Sensei when delivering sessions.

1. DO try to emphasise individual mastery

This comes from an internal need to be able ‘ to do something’ competently. It stands to reason that if we find something too difficult to learn, then many people will just give up. If these negative experiences happen in our dojo/training halls in  those all important ‘early years’ then we could inadvertently be ‘turning people off’ sport for life.

2. DON’T overemphasise peer comparisons of performance
Does your grading criteria compare between students? or is it based upon individual performances? Do you say things like ‘why can’t you just do it correct like {insert name here}’. That said, I’m a fair believer in competition and I encourage even our youngest students to give competition a go – I couldn’t care less if they win, lose or draw but I like to see them giving their best and trying. They’re a great ‘head fake’ (Pausch, 2007).

3. DO promote perceptions of choice
People like to feel like they have a ‘say’ in their lives, especially kids! I’m not saying you should give up all your authority and let the kids run riot but you could ask them ‘what would you like to do today at training?’. You could also just give students the choice between a number of options, if they don’t choose what you’d like them to you could always build that subject into future sessions.

4. DON’T undermine an intrinsic focus by misusing extrinsic rewards
How do you answer the ‘why are we doing this’ question? Do you answer with ‘because I told you so’ or because you could get a shiny medal? or do you explain the inherent benefits of the skill, the traditional art that they are slowly mastering… something to think about.

 5. DO promote the intrinsic fun and excitement of exercise
This should be an easy win.

6. DON’T turn exercise into a bore or a chore
I KNOW that I’ve done this in some of my sessions but hopefully not all the time! I like the authors comparison with a ‘diet’ of physical activity and sport. Imagine how bored you’d be if you had to do the same technique every lesson, week in, week out. Again, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be practising our basics, every lesson if needed, but I’m sure we can at least attempt to keep it fresh and interesting.

7. DO promote a sense of purpose by teaching the value of physical activity to health, optimum function, and quality of life
This links in well with no. 6, if students know why they are performing a particular drill or technique then they are much more likely to work through the ‘boring stuff’.

I had a similar experience a few weeks ago in one of our sessions… we had our students working on one of the basic partner drills and you could see they weren’t particularly excited about it. We had to persevere with it as they had the chance of grading soon. I  showed them the application of the key skills  they’d been learning (in this case Kuzushi/balance breaking) in a ‘practical’ setting. Opponent attacks, I un-balance them and they end up on the floor with very little effort. I then broke down what I did and that it came from what they had just been practising. It was like a EUREKA moment, you could actually see things dropping into place with the students.   

8. DON’T create amotivation by spreading fitness misinformation
This again should be a no-brainer. As a coach we don’t want to be endorsing products or services that don’t work, simple really. This includes fad diets and the use of supplements.

I’m not a perfect coach, and probably never will be but I do wholeheartedly believe that you don’t improve in anything without some sort of intention to and the effort that goes with the intention. Continuously. This philosophy is built into our club at every level, every journey begins with the first step. How are you going to improve yourself this year?

The full journal can be accessed here for free: http://www.fitness.gov/publications/digests/intrinsic.pdf for those who would like to read it. I’m sure you can download it and read it on your kindle!

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