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shame, praise, and letter grades

September 30, 2011

[Happy Friday, and welcome to Chasing Maybes. Here, I stare down my preferences and prejudices, one Trivial Pursuit category at a time.  I’m just finishing up the category of Sports and Leisure.]

My apologies for asking a question you’ll hear repeated at least 49 more times today, but here goes: How is it possible that September is already over?

image by stonysteiner via flickr

Maybe this month sprinted by because I spent most of it bathed in bubble wrap and moving boxes.  Maybe it’s that the 102 degree weather leaves me in autumn-denial.  Whatever.  The fact is, September ends at midnight and I’ll be moving on to my next Chasing Maybes category.  Since the month fled in a fiery haze, I think it is time for a recap.

  • I decided to learn about football, despite a lifetime of having avoided doing so
  • I pondered both the light and the dark sides of sports fandom
  • I considered sports-as-relationship-building from my children’s perspectives
  • I mused on rest, and
  • I cheered at  a supercharged high school football game

While I can’t call myself an expert on the rules of football or claim a new found addiction to Sports Center, I have learned volumes about why others are both this month.  I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about competition, as well as its sprightly little cousin motivation.

In my professional life, I have spent countless hours considering what motivates people.  This doesn’t make me a motivation scholar, but it means I have strong opinions on the matter.

Opinion 1).  Fear can be an extremely effective motivator in the short-term (a patient’s physician says, “You’d better lose 20 pounds or you are going to drop dead,” inspiring an immediate dive into daily walks and low fat cuisine), but it is a lousy motivator in the long term (the patient doesn’t drop dead, so sees no reason to continue his healthy lifestyle).

Opinion 2).  Intrinsic motivation (exercise feels good, so you do it) is far more effective in the long term than extrinsic motivation (your doctor says you should walk, and you want to make him happy).

Opinion 3).  Some people are hardwired with stronger intrinsic motivation than others.  Alternately, some people’s intrinsic motivation is geared toward more beneficial actions than others’.

I’ve contemplated motivation a lot since attending last week’s high school football game.  As I mentioned, our seats positioned us immediately behind the home team, where we could see the coaches’ red-faced rants and hear snippets of conversation.  When the team was subject to one particularly colorful tirade by the coach, I found myself wondering:  “Is that what works in football?  Does screaming at and shaming these boys actually improve their performance on the field?”  While I can’t answer that question intelligently, I can say that, post-chew-out, the home team’s hustle increased exponentially.

Having no sports experience of my own to draw from, I thought about what has motivated me as a student.  I remembered a particularly low time in my undergraduate studies when I, surrounded by prep school kids who seemed far better equipped to handle college than I, brimmed with self-doubt.  I had worked tirelessly on a paper about images of women in advertising, and received it back from the professor.  Not only had she given me an A, but she had also written a page of comments about why she thought it was an excellent paper. She provided me with motivation to go on at the exact moment that I needed it the most.  I still have that paper, and I thought about it a few years ago when I read in my alumni magazine that this professor had died after a long battle with cancer.  Though I didn’t know her well, I shocked myself by bursting into tears when I read that she was gone.  I never told her the impact she had on my academic career, but I  hope one of her more thoughtful students did.

So, I’ve arrived at no definitive conclusions about the subject of motivation.  As long as I’m on a tangent, though, what do you think?  What motivates you?  If you teach others, what tools do you use to motivate your students?  I’m curious.

Tomorrow’s another month, but today is cracking wide open, pink around its edges.  It’s time for me to run.

Today, I hope you are motivated to do something remarkable… like tell someone (s)he did a great job when (s)he needs to hear it the most.  Thank you — always — for showing up.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. ashton permalink
    September 30, 2011 8:34 pm

    i so enjoy your blog and some how you speak to me in some way each time i read it! i don’t usually comment and, for some reason this particular post struck me so bear with me as the the social worker comes out in me 🙂 a great movie to watch (especially for those who think that yelling and shaming are the only things or perhaps the best things that really work when coaching) is “pride.” it is the true story of jim ellis, an african american swim coach who befriends a group of kids and ends up teaching them how to swim and coaching them as a team. he uses the skills they already possess (bball) to teach them how to swim, he uses their language (without yelling and shaming) to allow them to have their own aha moments, while instiling in them the skills they need to success not only in swimming but in life (leadership skills, working as a team, problem solving, supporting teammates etc.) there is more to it than that but you get the gist…

    don’t know why i felt the need to post this, just LOVE your blog and what you are doing and it reminded me of this movie (you probably already know this but we show clips of it in our coaching in the kitchen, guiding parents through teachable moments curriculum to introduce the kind of coaching that will allow sw’s more opportunity for success when “teaching” parenting skills.)

    miss you!!! xoxo

    • October 4, 2011 5:56 am

      hey ashton! I replied to your comment, but just realized it never showed up — boo. just wanted to thank you for pointing out the movie “pride.” i have never seen it, nor was I ever able to come see you guys do “coaching,” as much as I wanted to. I think it sounds like a fantastic movie and right up my alley :). thanks for sharing.
      thank you, also, for sharing those delightful pictures of your juicy bab(ies). they are precious.
      miss you, too… look for something in the mail from me soon.

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