Athletes and Coaches: Learners and Teachers | Steve Barkley
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Athletes and Coaches: Learners and Teachers

Throughout my many years studying teaching and learning and the coaching of teachers, I have frequently looked to the performing arts and athletic fields in search of insights. I recently reviewed a paper titled The Coach-Athlete Relationship and pulled some elements for my continued pondering.

Intrinsic motivation and self-determined extrinsic motivation

The phrase self-determined extrinsic motivation was a new term for me to consider. With intrinsic motivation, the activity provides pleasure and satisfaction motivating the participant. While at times an extrinsic motivation can be coerced or imposed, it can also become internalized by an individual and thus labeled as self-determined. An example is an athlete who doesn’t enjoy weight training but recognizes its impact on performance and engages willingly, rather than required by the coach. (I think I have labeled this as a discipline.) Because sports performance often requires much training and discipline, athletes cannot rely solely on intrinsic motivation. They need to have self-determined extrinsic motivation….an internalized value of the action. “It is in the athlete’s best interest that coaches nurture their athletes’ intrinsic motivation and self-determined types of extrinsic motivation.” For sure we can say the same for our students. Equally true for teachers’ engagement in professional growth.

Being Autonomy-Supportive

Autonomy-supportive means that an instructor or coach takes the student’s or athlete’s perspective, acknowledges their feelings, and provides information and opportunities for choice while minimizing the use of pressures or demands. As teachers and teachers’ coaches, we are autonomy-supportive when we encourage choice, independent problem-solving, and participation in decision-making.

Autonomy Supportive Behaviors

  • Provide choice within specific rules and limits. Studies indicate that choice increases intrinsic motivation. In an interesting research study, some athletes were individually asked for music preferences for workouts and others were not. Those who were asked, assumed the music played was the preferences of others. While it was not, those asked reported higher intrinsic motivation than those who were not asked, while all heard the same music.
  • Provide a rationale for a task. When learners understand the reasons for tasks that are being assigned, and similarly, the reasons that certain rules or limits are put in place the opportunity for self-determined extrinsic motivation is increased. I have described this process as providing a “compelling why.” An example would be a teacher taking time to explain the reason for a homework assignment. The learner understanding how the task is connected to their desired learning outcome is key. The teacher needs to be credible. Too often, the same assignment given to the entire class is unlikely to be the best use of every student’s efforts
  • Acknowledge the athlete’s/learner’s feelings and perspectives. When a teacher/coach requires a certain task with the rational (compelling why), acknowledging the perceptions of the learner can assist in further building toward self-determined extrinsic motivation.” Memorizing these terms will take repetitive practice which we often find boring.”
  • Provide opportunities for initiative-taking and independent work. Studies reinforce that students who feel that they can decide to some extent what to do in class, how to use their extra time, and how to go about doing required tasks report higher levels of intrinsic motivation.
  • Provide non-controlling competence feedback. For feedback to facilitate intrinsic motivation it needs to (1) promote perceptions of autonomy and competence, (2) target behaviors that are in the learner’s control, and (3) convey high but realistic expectations.
  • Prevent ego- involvement. When ego-involvement occurs, intrinsic motivation often decreases as learners evaluate their performance by comparing themselves to others as opposed to their own goals and progress. A focus on self-set goals rather than imposed goals and self-improvement versus peer comparison has been shown to increase intrinsic motivation.

As some students are returning to classrooms for the first time in over a year, teachers’ conscious focus on being autonomy supportive can be very helpful to build and tap into intrinsic motivation. Since many school standards, tasks, requirements, and rules may be in place, examining ways to support self-determined extrinsic motivation will also be important. This list of autonomy supportive behaviors might provide a reflection piece for instructional coaches to explore with teachers looking to encourage student engagement.

Teachers and staff from UCLA Community School meet with UCLA professors to discuss the various research projects happening at the school.

School leaders can examine this list of autonomy-supportive behaviors and consider conscious leadership actions that can promote teacher’s intrinsic motivation and self-determined extrinsic motivation.

Increase teacher inputs to leadership decisions.

To better encourage teachers to feel they have a stake in the education system, they should be involved in decision-making processes whenever possible. Seeking teacher input at both the school and system level can lead to higher feelings of agency and improve overall motivation.” (UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning)


Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

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