Are there ever times we should reward participation. I would say there are, but not for the reasons people are usually rewarded for taking part. Before explaining, we will look at the nature of goal-setting . We want to keep our goals performance based, not achievement based. What should we focus on if we want to win a championship or tournament?? What steps do we take? We win games, but how? By being faster? Stronger? Smarter? All of these?
When we boil it down we need to be faster, stronger and smarter than what? Our opponents? How strong and fast are they? That will depend on the opponent and their preparation. We can’t set our goal on being stronger or faster than our opponents because it isn’t a goal we can measure against, and our standard will change weekly. This means it doesn’t make sense to set an actionable goal to win games. If we can’t set an actionable goal of winning a game, we can’t set the goal of winning the tournament or championship.
To backtrack just a little. Winning a championship can be a goal in the sense of something to aim for, but it isn’t a workable or actionable goal that we can do anything with. We can’t say “We’re going to win the championship by being better, so let’s practice on being better!” Better doesn’t mean anything unless it is the context of something we can measure and control.
We can only set an actionable goal if it is something we can control! I can’t train to be stronger than my opponent if my opponent changes every week, but I can be stronger than I was yesterday. I can lift an extra 5lbs today over what I did yesterday. Faster? I can’t control the pace of my opponent who changes every week, but I can take 0.1 of a second off my 0-100m if I practice on the right things. Our goals have to be things we can truly work on, but beyond that, they have to be specific.
This takes us back to the top – When should we reward participation? When participation is the goal! A child who is shy or lacking in confidence may refuse to be a part of activities where others are involved, or where there is athletic activity. In this instance rewarding the courage it took to be part of something will reinforce the behavior in the future.
Here are the three takeaways for today:
1 – Always set goals that are workable and controllable.
2 – Reward the goals we set in order to reinforce the same hard work it took to achieve them.
3 – Recognize performances, not achievement. If participation takes courage, reward the courage. If trophies are given, focus on the hard work and commitment, not beating the other team or athlete. Which would a child rather hear from a parent or coach, “Well done for winning” or “I am proud of your hard work and commitment”.
Unless you are in a sport such as boxing where there is a long time to prepare for a specific opponent (which even then they could have a different game plan to expected), it is difficult to prepare for every nuance. Rewarding achievement recognizes the result, but it is important to focus on the work it took to achieve the result, and in that context, a participation award may have value.
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