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Promoting Competence In Youth Sport

Instilling The Sense Of Accomplishment

By Katarina Miller - June 18, 2018

More on Competence
            Moving right along to the next component of self-determination theory is competence: feeling as though you have the skills to interact with your environment effectively. In simpler terms, people have a need to feel capable. Whether that be on a sporting field, a classroom, or in a sales job, people want to feel as though they can use their skills to lead themselves to desired outcomes. And when supported appropriately in an environment with the other components of self-determination theory, competence can also facilitate the high-quality motivation we’re all looking for in our athletes.
            Two of the reasons perceived competence can enhance motivation are because it can drive goal attainment and because it can provide more satisfaction from engaging in tasks. Having perceived confidence can allow an individual not only to set appropriate goals for their skills level, but can provide the motivation to work towards them as they can be seen as attainable and worth chasing. Additionally, feeling skilled can be enjoyable. Walking into a group of your peers with the confidence of competence and being able to execute can provide high levels of satisfaction and enjoyment form the activity. Those feelings of satisfaction can be what leads an athlete to return to practices and competitions with high levels of effort and motivation regardless of those around them.
Training for Failure vs. Training for Competence
            In one of our previous blog posts, we discussed the necessity of preparing for evaluation and “failure” in the world of athletics. This is a common topic we discuss with coaches and parents, and we often encourage them to place their athletes in situations where they can learn to build resilience in the face of failure. Similarly, we often discuss the inherent nature of skill development with coaches and its relationship to success versus failure. Meaning that when you are teaching a new skill to someone, whether it be an athlete or a new employee, the inherent nature is that there will be mistakes made along the way. Preparing for, and experiencing, failure is a necessary and unavoidable part of any performers life. I cannot emphasize enough that experiencing failure in training can be productive and also needed for proper development. But what I challenge coaches, parents, and executives to consider is how can this be counter-balanced in a way that simultaneously promotes competence?
            As with autonomy, there are a few small changes that can be made to a training environment that can lead to competence-support. It’s not about overhauling your system to fit this theory; it’s about finding the little changes that make the biggest impacts.
  • Goal-setting: proper goal-setting can be an integral part of developing competence. Goals that are appropriate for the athlete’s skill levels should be challenging enough to give them something to strive for, but not so challenging that it diminishes their sense of competence
  • Defining failure: I encourage coaches to start their seasons with a discussion on “failure” with their athletes. Define with your athletes what success and failure look like both in practice and competition. Emphasize the power of mistakes as an ability to grow, and emphasize dedication to skill development over winning
  • Balanced training: Be intentional about providing both opportunities for skill development and for competence-support in training. If you’re going to have a particularly challenging day of training for example, perhaps you end the session with something that you know your athletes can complete successfully
            I encouraged readers to take some time to think about implementing autonomy-supportive strategies in their upcoming week, and I encourage you to do the same with competence strategies. Take a look at your training plans, have the conversations about failure with your athletes, and never hesitate to take the opportunity to provide positive-feedback. The more consistently these small changes are made, the more changes you can see in your athletes’ motivation.