Do You Know The #1 Motivator For Youth?

Written by Donald Watts

January 21, 2016


Over winter break I witnessed the simplest and most magical thing as it relates to youth development;  my two kids and two of their friends (ages 3, 11 and 8)  working out climbing hills for hours on end. Not only were they working out for hours, but they were doing it in the extreme winter conditions of snow and ice. They started on a small hill then sought bigger and bigger challenges. I watched them climb, stumble, laugh and joke with each other. I watched them fall all the way back to the bottom only to get up and try again.   They hurt themselves, but kept going strong through the bumps and bruises. The kids mimic and made fun of each others failures, but it didn’t deter or even both them. It actually seemed to motivate and bring them closer together in a sort of bond building way.

The Workout 
Between the four children they must have climbed up wards of a hundred hills.  They were doing the kind of punishing workout that a profession Athlete would put themselves through.  The kind of workout out that builds speed, muscle, endurance and stamina.  The most amazing part was we didn’t ask them to do it, we didn’t push them to do it, they asked us and they pushed themselves.

The Motivation 
What a an amazing motivation they had. They must really be driven.They must really want to be great. They must really want a scholarship. They must be special kids with a great drive.  In actuality, they are just normal kids doing what all kids want to do, Play. They were working hard and motivated by fun, joy and the immediate gratification of SLEDDING.  The relatively quick ride down was plenty motivation for the challenging climb up.   It didn’t matter to them how hard it was to climb or how many times they failed, because it was all in the name of fun.

Check out the video from our sledding experience.

The Key 
They reminded me that the best way to motivate kids to work is to let them PLAY.  The kids did not know or care that they were working on explosive power, balance, speed, endurance, tenacity, perseverance and social skills; they were just being kids.  Those are values that will serve them well as future student athletes and community members.  It is our responsibility as parents and coaches to find, create and encourage participation fun/play  activities that develop those qualities initially. Here are some key elements to making activities more fun:

  • Minimum adult involvement . Adults supervised but didn’t interfere
  • Adults provided the equipment necessary and gave them the space to explore
  • The work to reward ratio was estimated 6:1 say a thirty second hill climb for a 5 second sled ride and well worth it
  • There was no judgment for failure. Even though there was teasing the kids perceived it as laughing with not at
  • Work to reward was immediate
  • There were no requirements, expectations, or time limit set on the kids experience


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