One of the things I love most about my job as an instructional aid in elementary schools is the chance I get to observe kids at play. One October morning during the kids morning recess I was helping supervise the kindergarteners. The kids were all wound up and decided they wanted to race each other. Running on the playground usually is forbidden, but one of the teachers decided it would be okay if she took them to the grass and facilitated a silly game of racing. About 30 kids lined up parallel with the teacher on a long, wide strip of grass. The guidelines of the race were to run all the way down to the edge of the grass and the blacktop and back. Aside from just racing, the kids had to imitate whatever festive Halloween character the teacher called out, like a ghost for instance. The teacher would yell out, “ready set ghost” and all the kids would take off howling “Boo” all the way to the end of the grass and back.
After a few rounds of being owls, bats, and monsters, I began to notice distinct motivation orientations emerging within the children. Some kids started to only run halfway down the stretch of grass, turn around and come running back, beating 75% of their classmates. This is the perfect example of an ego-orientation; these kids were only concerned with winning. It didn’t matter if they had completed the race in full, all they wanted was to cross the finish line before their peers. These kids who only ran half way were motivated by social comparison; they possessed an ego-oriented goal motivation. The fun of racing came from beating other children. They didn’t care if they cheated or weren’t participating correctly. They simply defined success as crossing the finish line before other kids.
On the opposite end of the spectrum there were the task-oriented kids; no matter how slow they were, they would run all the way to edge of the grass every time and then turn around and come running back. The kids who ran to the end of the grass every time simply enjoyed the task of running and defined success as completing the task correctly. It never mattered what place they were in when they finished, as long as they ran the whole way and correctly acted out whatever character was instructed. These kids associate effort with success, they have a task-orientation.
With athletes, it is beneficial to reinforce a task-orientation. Athletes who equate success with effort are more willing to take on challenging tasks. They feel as if they have succeeded even if the outcome is unsuccessful, because they tried their best. They tend to focus on progress rather than outcome. Athletes who thrive on social comparison tend to only take on challenges where they feel they can win. Think about it, if winning is the goal, it doesn’t matter how you attain that goal. The “win at all costs” mentality makes cheating acceptable because the only goal they have is to win. Task-oriented athletes simply wish to complete the task at best of their abilities. They won’t cut corners to make it to the finish line, they simply do their best.
Talent isn’t an innate trait, it is something that is earned through hard work. In the end, developing athletes with a task-orientation will produce highly skilled players.
Quote of the day:
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.” – Maya Angelou