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Paying for Performance – Is cash for grades or sports a good idea?

For as long as grades and results have been around, students and children have been rewarded fiscally by parents and family members paying for performance. Whilst this may seem like a simple harmless gesture, do we ever stop to think about the impact that this may be having on children regarding their motivation and mindset?

Motivation and mindset

These two dynamics, motivation and mindset, are key when discussing the positives and negatives in rewarding children with cash or other extrinsic rewards – paying for performance – such as a new game, a new bike or pair of shoes the child has wanted for a long time. I think you’d agree, we all want our children to be motivated to achieve and to display a positive mindset in all aspects of life, but how do we best help our children develop these skills without being overbearing or placing unwarranted pressure on them?

Growth mindset

Let’s start with growth mindset, a key pillar here at Grace Lutheran College and somewhat a buzzword in modern day education.

Leading researcher Carol Dweck has defined two different types of mindset (growth and fixed) and investigated the impact that each can have on learning and development. Studies show that people with a growth mindset are more likely to stay committed to a task when it gets hard and learn from their mistakes through seeking and accepting feedback. They’re therefore more likely to maximise their potential. Trevor Ragan from trainugly.com, highlights the two key characteristics of growth mindset as BELIEF and FOCUS; with people in a growth mindset believing skills are built, that you can learn and grow and are focused on the process of getting better.

This is in stark comparison to people in a fixed mindset who believe skills are born and are focused on performance, outcomes and not looking bad. Growth Mindset is therefore recognised as the foundation of learning. Everything, be it developing your shooting skills in Football, understanding Algebra or making new friends, comes back to our mindset.


Basketball at Grace Lutheran College

Here’s where motivation comes in. Whilst there are many types of motivation, two that are consistent as themes are Intrinsic and Extrinsic. Intrinsic being where the individual is motivated by their own personal desire to improve or to satisfy a self-fulfilling desire, whereas Extrinsic motivation comes from outside sources such as incentive (paying for performance), power and affiliation.

Motivation can be a complex beast, and certain individuals definitely react differently to different sources of motivation. It’s also important to note that when in balance and moderation, having more than one type of motivation can be useful. Nevertheless, it’s generally accepted, and I certainly agree, that for long term success and engagement, Intrinsic motivation, which focusses on learning, self-improvement, fulfilment and personal growth should be our priority. As soon as we offer an extrinsic incentive reward to children for a performance outcome, such as scoring a goal or getting a certain grade, their focus can switch from a growth to a fixed mindset.

The likelihood of the effort and challenges being undertaken for self-improvement and personal growth is reduced, as this extrinsic reward is hanging over them. If it becomes about the ‘money’ or ‘reward’, children will start to lose enjoyment, fun and the self-fulfilment which comes with progress and improvement, which inevitably leads to early drop out and disengagement.

This is particularly the case where there is a standing agreement, or an incentive offered prior to the completion of the task. For example, there is a huge difference between offering a child money or another extrinsic reward for scoring goals in sporting games, in comparison to post game offering to take a child out for a family meal to reward the effort and success they had that day. One has the potential to breed greed and entitlement, the other encourages hard work and humility – which has a direct impact on the child’s mindset.

Enabling growth mindset

Netball at Grace Lutheran College

But rewards are important right? We all want to show our children that we are proud of their achievements and we appreciate them. So how do we help our children develop positive motivation and a growth mindset? Here are some key tips from the leading experts in developing mindset and motivation.

  1. Always reward effort over outcome. Children need to know that success is defined in more ways than a grade or by winning a trophy, so lets consistently reward our children with positive reinforcement when we notice the hard work they put in and when they overcome a challenge.
  1. Be specific with your praise. Children need to know exactly what they have done well and can improve on, so that they can continue to develop. There is no point in just saying ‘you scored an amazing goal today’. Switch it up to say, ‘I loved how you controlled the ball before you scored today – I can see you’ve been working hard on that’. By doing this it’ll mean that they are also more likely to accept feedback when something hasn’t worked quite as well – ‘I loved how you were controlling the ball today, that’s going to give you a better chance of passing to a teammate next week – we can work on that, but remember, I’m really proud of how your ball control has improved – well done’.
  1. Encourage your children to set S.M.A.R.T goals. These mean specific, measurable, action based, realistic and time bound. Action based is key in goal setting as it ensures that the goals are process based over outcome based and ensures that the work and effort is being done first and foremost. Get into the right process and results will naturally follow!
  1. Celebrate success as a family. When the bigger goals are achieved, such as making a state team or finishing a set of exams, go out together as a family and enjoy time together and acknowledge the sacrifices that you all make for each other. This could be something simple like a family meal out or having friends over, or something more extravagant like going to a show or sports game together.
  1. Be present for them! I guarantee in 30 years’ time the child will remember all the games and performances that you went to watch and the long car rides and sacrifices you made over the extrinsic ‘paying for performance’ rewards they received for scoring a goal or getting an A.

A Sporting Excellence perspective

Soccer at Grace Lutheran College

Motivation and Mindset are two key components which we work on in our Multi-Sport Excellence program, GLC Sporting GOALS. So much so that our student athletes have designed their own Growth Mindset initiative, The Process of Progress, aimed at developing student athletes holistically throughout their time at Grace College.

In order to be involved in our program students must display the two main characteristics of growth mindset. We believe that abilities are there to be developed and worked on, the journey to success is a long one, with many challenges and obstacles along the way, and whilst it’s important to recognise success, it’s vital that we recognise that hard work that enabled the success. In order to do this, we constantly refer to focus. Results are simply a marker for where we are right now.

Everyone has their own developmental path and can accelerate at differing points to others – so instead of focusing on the outcome or how people perceive our success, lets join together and focus on the journey and how together, as a team, we are going to continue to have fun and smash through the next challenge.

Paying for performance

If you are seeking to reward your child for their academic or sporting achievements, allow them to grow their positive mindset through intrinsic motivation.

This editorial was a contribution by Tommy Peak, Director of Sport – Grace Lutheran College, and appeared in our print issue 41, August/September 2020

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Joanne Crane

Joanne loves speaking directly to people of all ages through the medium of writing, sharing tips and knowledge for families and kids to help everyone get the most out of life. Her focus is on the development of resilience, confidence and independence in children, and on helping families engage and create lasting memories. Self-esteem, self-respect and self-worth are vital skills that Joanne believes children need to learn early to help them grow as adults.

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