Green Tootsie Pop Motivation

I have some great reservations about rewarding youth sport athletes with candy, ice cream, stickers, baseball cards, and shiny trophies for all.  Something about bribery of youth sport athletes does not sit well in my gut nor does it settle my psych of performance mind.  Sure it seems harmless enough, but what is the value for enjoyment and performance of play?

Flipping through Daniel Pink’s Drive (2009) got me thinking it was time to put a voice to my uneasy relationship with the token economy of youth sport.  Reinforcing play with extrinsic rewards takes the “play” out of it…. turning it into “work.”  If you consider self-determination closely, one would even realize that providing rewards for batting, fielding, running, and pitching can actually inhibit the growth of inquisitive energy, performance, and fun.  Rewards, although initially pleasing to a kid, actually take the fun out of play.  Extrinsic reward puts someone else in charge of the experience (i.e. coach or parent), robbing the athlete of autonomy.  Extrinsic reward makes athletic tasks seem like mindless goals to accomplish, rather than dynamic challenges with solutions that can take many shapes and forms.  Rewarding a child for playing may be easy, but it really does not lead to long term accomplishment or passion.

This being said, Tootsie pops at the conclusion of a game can be nice.  The green ones in particular are great for motivation.  Watching the Hull Snow Crabs after a fierce hour of tee ball is a sight to see.  They converge on the open bag of Tootsie pops with reckless abandon.  The lollipops are just part of the experience, a relatively benign sign of appreciation and praise.  Their value to the kids is minimal (I often find a half eaten one in my car hours later).  Yet, there are about two green pops available each week.  No player gets the color regularly, but they are the true gems in each bag.  Whoever gets them is random and not guaranteed each week, but the joy that accompanies the luck of finding green in one’s palm is a sight to see.  Green is good, because it is not a reward for efforts and is not always accessible.  It lets play be play and some additional wonder follow.


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