Motivated young gymnasts are playing with a parachute.

How to Healthily Motivate Students

The culture of your business is important. It’s what people talk about – and word of mouth is still an impactful advertising [positive or negative]. Having a healthy motivational atmosphere can affect performance effort of your students but can also impact their long term participation in the activity. What if a student came in and was a super talented dancer or gymnast, but they hated your culture. I’m sure you don’t want that at all – so how can you create a positive culture that people gravitate towards?

Create a task-involving climate rather than an ego-involving climate. This will build each student’s confidence while motivating them in a healthy way. Some students are task oriented and determine their success by how hard they try and how quickly they master different skills. Identify which students are task-oriented and see how you can create conversations with other students to be more positive. If a student is ego-oriented, they tend to focus on normative goals and can create a rift in the culture of the school.

Characteristics of a task-oriented climate: 

  • Teachers reward high effort
  • Teachers make everyone feel like they have an important role on the team or in the school
  • Teacher views mistakes as part of the learning process and teaches students to do the same

Perspective from industry leaders:

Mary Burch – Coordinator of Choreography – Spirit Gymnastics Training Center

There are four factors that determine how hard a child works. Teach your staff these and get familiar with them yoursleves. Think about how different expectations can impact your success, what peer pressure can do, etc.

  • Expectation
  • Peer Pressure
  • Rewards/Motivation
  • Support from key individuals

One thing we do is to change thoughts and statements around to make them positive. For example, if someone says “I can’t..,” we change it around to “I can, but I may need a little help.” This keeps positivity when the student is upset about not mastering a skill or just having an off day. We don’t teach them to be perfect – we teach them to have a positive attitude and set small goals to achieve the larger skill.

“If you say I can’t, you won’t. If you say I can, we’ll make a plan.”

Joe Oehme – President and Founder – New Jersey Swim Schools

At Njswim we use a motivational phrase, “Earn your strength” to all of our swimmers who are working toward a new goal or skill set.   We guide our swimmers along our skill progression and provide the necessary support to help them achieve.  There are times when the swimmer needs to “stretch a little higher” in order to reach that next level.  We encourage them to discover these achievements and share in the satisfaction that the goal was reached.  We then use that “win” to remind them that they are capable and use the scenario to inspire more success within the progression.

Making the lessons fun is a big part of our program. At the end of each lessons, about 4 to 5 minutes towards the end of each class is dedicated to something fun. Whether it be playing a game in the pool, diving for rings, jumping into the pool, etc. we know that they will leave our school with a smile on their face. When they go home, they will remember all they achieved and not just the struggle.

A big part of our job is proper placement of children in appropriate levels.  With the small group 3:1 ration, placing our swimmers into the right level is huge. While we don’t advertise skill levels to the children, we want each child to be placed into a group that is appropriate for learning.   The child’s personal success in our program makes our program successful.
Erica Nahass – Owner/Director – Winchester Gymnastics Academy

Growing up a gymnast and then being a team coach for years, Erica knew when she started her gym it would be focused on recreational programs. This has allowed her to stand out against the highly competitive gymnastics gyms in her area and really provide something to the local children.

One way we communicate about levels to the students is by explaining to them that Gymnastics is different than school – you don’t have to go up a grade or level each year.

We are positive reinforcement focused. Our team focuses on saying something the student did well first, and then giving a critique. For example, “Great job working on your handstand. Next time, try to keep your legs straighter.” This will come across way different than “Don’t bend your legs!”

Positive things to say to students:

  • Did you have fun?
  • How did you perform?
  • You were a real encouragement to Susie.
  • I was proud of the way you stayed determined and focused throughout the performance.
  • You’re really doing well on your skills today!
  • Great job with xyz, next time try xyz.

How do you motivate your students? Share with us in the comments!


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