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Why pay? Children love to score anyway!

Have you ever paid or thought about paying your child for scoring and thought you were doing a great job in motivating them? If so, you may just want to read on to take a look at the impact of such a tactic.

In many ways it can be deemed as ‘senseless bribery’, as find me a child who has never loved to score anyway?
All of us as human beings are motivated at times by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors.

Intrinsic motivation refers to behaviour that is driven by internal rewards. In other words, the motivation to engage in a behaviour arises from within the individual because it is naturally satisfying to them.

Extrinsic motivation refers to behaviour that is driven by external rewards such as being paid to score a goal, fame, trophies and praise.

The important thing to recognise here is that intrinsic motivation is far more powerful and lasts far longer.

There are a number of dangers with rewarding your child in this way most notably that only the outcome can be valued as a measure of success by both parties. How many children arrive home from a game with one parent and the other asks ‘‘Did you win?” “No” replies the child. “Did you score?”, “No” replies the child. End of conversation.

Really? So many positive things could have happened despite a loss and not scoring but all of them have been totally lost due to this outcome-based approach.

At the conclusion of a scoreless, yet well-played game, how is your child supposed to feel? Should they feel as cheerful as when they scored five the week before against a much weaker side who gifted them these opportunities?

Or should they feel disappointed since regardless of how well they played they will still walk off the field ‘empty handed’.

If as parents, we only value the outcomes we are not recognising the key processes that can have such a long-lasting impact on a child’s sporting development. Things such as hard work, improved effort, looking after teammates and being a great team player are all lost in the push for more money in the piggy bank. Inadvertently, we may well be also undermining the position of the coach.

As part of a long-term athletic development model there are issues for both player and coach. The player could make poor decisions on the field as they are more motivated by the extrinsic reward rather than being motivated to do well by making the correct decision. It makes the coaches job far more difficult as the player is not even open to the idea of other options.

You may see your child score a few more in the short term, I grant you that, however they will not continue to develop and as we all know in sport the older you get the more difficult it becomes to score anyway.

Extrinsic rewards are the enemy of exploration’ – Kohn, 1991.

The following are all problems that your child may encounter if they are entering games motivated by the cash reward:
• They get stuck between earning the reward, pleasing the parent or doing what the coach is asking. As a result, ends up doing none of it particularly well.
• They end up with tunnel vision, only focusing on the scoring rather than other things going on around them.
• They can show a lack of effort when played in other positions particularly in defence.
• Their self-esteem can go if they hit a barren run – all top scorers have had bad runs without scoring!
• If teammates feel they are only playing for themselves, they may end up not passing to them.
• If teammates are working hard, they may become frustrated if they feel that your child is not making the correct level of contribution and only playing for themselves and this can lead to friction and fall outs.

At the end of the day children find sport fun for many different reasons to how an adult may view it and fun is the important word here. It is not always about the score and how many times they may score. They may find the experience fun because they tried hard, worked hard as part of a team and the coaching was really positive.

So, the next time you think of putting your hand into your pocket to reward your child for scoring, think again. Instead, how about putting it away in your own piggy bank and perhaps buying them some new boots when you feel they have worked really hard to improve their own performance and had a really positive impact on all those people around them.

Gordon MacLelland is the CEO and founder of Working with Parents in Sport, which supports parents and coaches in working together to provide children with the best possible sporting experiences. To find out more about their work please visit



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