Motivation, On the Field and Off


As some of the top female athletes in the nation gather at the NCAA’s Women’s College World Series this week, they’ll have plenty of motivation, not the least of which is to win a national championship.

Motivation and success likely won’t end on those fields for those elite players that have reached the top level of college softball. Those attributes took root long before those women arrived in Oklahoma City, with their teammates and their goals of hoisting a trophy.

Childhood participation in sports develops more than physical skills. Young athletes learn about teamwork, accountability, focus, winning and losing (with class and grace). Youth sports also can teach athletes about the importance of fitness and good nutrition habits. All of those are priceless qualities.

The lifelong benefits extend beyond that, according to Dr. Shawn Ladda, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology at Manhattan College and past president of the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport (NAGWS). Ladda pointed out that studies have shown higher self-esteem and healthier relationships, and fewer instances of depression, smoking and drug use, and of teen pregnancy among female athletes, in particular citing “Her Life Depends on It III,” a report published in 2015 by the Women’s Sports Foundation.

As to the benefits, “females may be able to derive these elements from somewhere else but I think sports may be more intentional in the direct development,” said Ladda, a member of SHAPE America — Society of Health and Physical Educators. “Being on a team has many transferable skills to life, for example working together toward a goal, developing positive communication skills, supporting teammates, healthy competition, learning to win and to lose to name just a few.”

In order for children to benefit from sports, they must stay in sports. That sometimes proves to be a problem, especially among girls. The Aspen Institute in 2015 pointed out that participation among children fell by nearly 3 million from 2008-13, citing statistics from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Statistics from the National Federation for High School Sports showed that nearly 5,000 fewer girls played high school fast-pitch softball in 2014-15 than in 2008-09, even though overall girls sports participation rose by more than 100,000 nationally in that time frame.

Some numbers are looking up, though. Softball and baseball combined to be the team sports with the most participation in 2016 SFIA figures, according to Fox Sports. The website credits the “Play Ball” program run by Major League Baseball to help promote involvement in the sports.

An aspect that results in continued participation is mastery of skills. Youth teams and leagues are important because they not only offer the fundamentals, but they provide plenty of on-field experience, vital to learning the game.

Ladda ties that to physical education. “Many girls first acquire skill through school physical education programs. This is one of the many reasons we need quality physical education,” the educator told MultiView via email. “If a girl finds assorted sports that she is skillful in, it is more likely that she will be involved in a sport.”

Once they’re participating, what helps to motivate these young athletes, particularly the girls? In USA Hockey’s strategies for motivating female athletes, Karen Thatcher, a 2010 U.S. Olympian, explained effective techniques.

“From personal experience as a coach and a player, I would say the number one most important strategy when working with female athletes is COMMUNICATION! Girls are notorious for wanting to know ‘why?’ This extends to the sports realm as well,” Thatcher told USA Hockey.

Ladda echoed that philosophy, which carries over to personal, academic and professional life.

“A good coach realizes that players can be treated fairly but differently. I think we reinforce that males like one to scream at them while females want more civil feedback from a coach to motivate them but I know plenty of men that would prefer civil feedback from a coach,” Ladda said. “All coaches regardless of what gender coaching should use ‘positive coaching’ techniques rather than the old way of coaching as authoritarian and degrading approaches.”

The factors that determine motivation can vary from sport to sport, team to team or athlete to athlete. However, Ladda has found an important aspect that drives athletes of both genders and bodes well for future health.

“The major way to motivate both males and females is with success,” Ladda said. “When one is successful in something whether it be sports or math, one wants to continue to participate in the activity.”

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