Motivating Kids in Physical Activity

Motivation is defined as behavioral choice, effort, persistence, and performance.

It can be characterized by frequency, intensity, time (F.I.T.), and level of physical activity.

Why children and adolescents participate in physical activity (leisure time activity, organized sports) — 3 major motives:

  1. Youths want to develop and demonstrate physical competence/adequacy, such as athletic skills, physical fitness, and physical appearance.
  2. Gaining social acceptance and support, including friendships, peer group acceptance, and approval, reinforcement, and encouragement by significant adults (parents, teachers, coaches) is important to initiating and continuing participation.
  3. Fun derived from participation maximizes positive and minimizes negative experiences related to physical activity.

The first 2 motives improve self-esteem, which enhances enjoyment and in turn promotes physical activity/motivated behavior.

Principles for maximizing motivation:

  1. Focus on teaching and practicing skills:  maximize equipment, facilities, instructors; don’t introduce competitive play too early; make sure it’s fun — provide variety.
  2. Modify skills and activities:  sequential progressions; modify space, equipment, rules; match the activity to the child, not the child to the activity.
  3. Realistic expectations for each child:  individual learning rates and goals.
  4. Become an excellent demonstrator:  lots of “show and tell”; repeated demonstrations; multiple angles.
  5. Catch kids doing things correctly:  complement, instruct, and encourage; provide optimal challenge as a follow-up.
  6. Reduce kids’ fears of trying skills:  provide an encouraging atmosphere — performance errors are part of the learning process; reduce fears of getting hurt — show how you’ve ensured   safety; show empathy.
  7. KISS:  keep instructions short and simple; maximize practice and playing time.
  8. Be enthusiastic:  it’s contagious!  Smile, interact, listen.
  9. Build character:  be a role model; identify and take advantage of teachable moments.
  10. Let children make some choices: involve them in the decision-making process; ask questions.
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