The Problem with Extrinsically Motivated Competition

Put me on a line and tell me to run 100 yards as fast as I can. I’ll run hard.

Put me on a line next to another man, similar in age and athleticism, and then tell me to run 100 yards. I’ll run harder, and you won’t even have to tell me to run as fast as I can.

I learned very early on in coaching that if I made things competitive, I didn’t even have to tell people to go hard; they just started to go harder.

However, because I didn’t understand human behavior and motivation, I made the same mistake as so many other coaches: I felt I needed to immediately attach a reward or punishment to the game. An extrinsic motivator. An example of how I used this type of motivation is as follows:

  1. Losers run. At first, after every game, I felt we had to have losers run immediately in practice.
  2. Losers run after practice. Dean Smith used to tally up winners and losers and save the running until after practice, because running during practice interrupted the flow.
  3. Winners get rewarded. To be more positive, we started to reward winners. If they get a certain number of wins, then after practice, they could redeem their wins for a Gatorade, a protein bar, etc.

The problem with all these strategies is they are extrinsic motivating strategies—carrots and sticks. Using extrinsic motivators only makes this short-term motivation and doesn’t foster a more competitive individual.

Should players never be rewarded? Should they never have negative consequences? No. It just shouldn’t be consistent. If you want to learn more about this, check out Daniel Pink’s book, Drive

People are intrinsically motivated to win; mind you, they are all at different levels. Our aim should be to only foster and nurture their intrinsic motivations.Over time, how I run competitions has evolved, within both my program and the programs of the coaches I support. Let me explain.

Intrinsically-Motivated Competition

So, what’s the alternative? Research leans towards making rewards random (unexpected) and consequences decided upon by players. Occasionally, fun consequences, like having to do a silly dance, can be positive for your culture.

However, what has been even more impactful is recording the winners and losers in what is called “the competitive cauldron”. The cauldron rankings are used in a variety of ways, depending on the level, sport, and current team culture.

Some coaches post their rankings publicly; others share them privately. Some even share with the parents! Some let the rankings influence playing-time decisions; others determine lineups from the rankings.

3 Reasons to Use A Competitive Cauldron

  1. Objective Data Point: A competitive cauldron is good to use during tough conversations with players, parents, and even assistant coaches! This helps us avoid making biased decisions.
  2. Engagement and Enjoyment: Players want to compete; it’s why they play the game!
  3. Builds Competitiveness: Conditioning for losers is not a great incentive, nor does it promote a positive message. The competitive cauldron is an alternative. When explained and used in the correct manner, it builds intrinsic motivation through competition.

The Competitive Cauldron Spreadsheet and Training Video

The Competitive Cauldron is a simple system helping you to objectively track and rank your players practice performance.  The result is players are more bought into their role and more competitive in practices.

  • The training will help you to design and implement the cauldron within your program.
  • The spreadsheet will track each players win% and rank throughout the season.
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