Motivation: Different Strokes for Different Folks- Part II | The Elite Gymnastics Journal

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Motivation: Different Strokes for Different Folks- Part II

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Motivation: Different Strokes for Different Folks- Part II

Dr. Joe Massimo and Dr. Sue Massimo

When it comes to motivation and effective coaching with gymnasts, one’s “locus of control” has a direct connection to the idea of stroking and reinforcement of behavior. Locus of control is a label given to a psychological notion regarding people’s beliefs about how they gain control of strokes or reinforcements they receive as the result of their personal striving. Reinforcements are those things that happen to an individual, positive or negative, verbal or nonverbal, that encourage or discourage the particular behavior. In Part I, we learned how gymnasts can primarily be motivated internally or externally with some a combination of the two.


Positive Coaching

Probably the most significant guideline that can be drawn from all motivation behavioral, educational and psychological literature is that a positive approach to interpersonal relations and learning is the most appropriate. There is little doubt that a strong correlation exists between a positive coaching approach and effectiveness regardless of one’s locus of control orientation. It may appear like a terribly simple idea, but it is amazing how many coaches, even those who believe they have a positive approach to the teaching-learning model, do not, in fact, operate in a positive manner, although they give lip service to the soundness of the concept. It is not always a matter of intentionally failing to practice what one preaches, but often is simply a matter of forgetting under the pressure to produce.

 Commenting on the technical merits or faults of skill execution is a mandatory part of the relationship, but such analysis should be accomplished in a psychological climate which is supportive and positive in nature and built on a foundation of respect for the individual involved. In such a setting, critique is a healthy condition for learning. Comments on improper behavior can be approached in the same way under this positive umbrella.


Coaching Strategies

There are several ways to enhance positive thinking and the kind of climate which is preferred. Depending on the gymnast’s internal or external locus of control orientation, these strategies may be emphasized more for one type over the other but are effective for all.

One thing to remember is to “reward” or reinforce immediately when the desired action occurs. Reward effort as well as results; verbally “good job” or nonverbally, a pat on the back, a smile, etc.

An equally important aspect of this same approach is to encourage the gymnast (another form of reinforcement) immediately following a big, obvious error. What went wrong at one level is usually evident, it is not necessary to go into a long, detailed technical explanation of the mechanics involved in falling flat on one’s back. Once it is clear that no injury has occurred, give a caring, warm, positive stroke and get back to the task with a minimum amount of fuss. Again, encourage the effort, don’t demand results.

When you offer constructive suggestions (criticism), first point out something that was done correctly. There must have been at least one part of the body that was close to correct; emphasize that initially and then go on to discuss things that must be altered. This method fosters self-motivation to correct the mistake, rather than negative motivation to avoid failure or coach disapproval.

Never take your gymnast’s efforts for granted. Letting them know individually or as a group that you appreciate their striving is a good idea and will help establish the positive work climate which is so conducive to learning.

Use encouragement selectively so that it is meaningful. Be supportive, but also avoid becoming a glorified cheerleader as this can irritate your gymnasts. It may have the opposite effect you wish to achieve and is especially true of internal locus of control gymnasts.

Stay away from punishment—this is also a negative reinforcement. Don’t require kids to run laps, do push-ups or use the piling on of gymnastic skill repetitions in this manner. Also, this can promote a negative association with conditioning.

Fear of failure is reduced if you work to lessen the fear of punishment or negative disapproval, verbal, physical or otherwise.

Use positive reinforcement whenever desirable group behavior occurs, such as the verbal stroke, “you really pull together well,” etc. In other words, prevent negative behaviors from occurring by using the positive approach to reward and strengthen their opposites.

Avoid getting in the position of constantly hassling or nagging a gymnast like a drill sergeant. If one gymnast just can’t hack it, remove him or her from the scene in a non-punitive manner, indicating that it would appear that they can’t manage things at this time. Don’t stop everything and go into a complicated analysis of what is going on.

Avoid applying a disciplinary action to the team for the behavior of one individual. Reserve any deep discussion for a private time.


The same positive approach suggested above with individual members of a team obviously applies to the overall management of the group as a unit. It is extremely important to maintain an external order which will facilitate the kind of psychic calm that enhances learning

Find out what else motivates your gymnasts with your Autographed Copy of Gymnastics Psychology: The Ultimate Guide for Coaches, Gymnasts and Parents at a special price with bonuses for USECA members at       ©2016 Gymnastics Psychology