Damned with Great Praise

We are all over the map, not only do the Tot’s Cafe read child
development books we also conduct our research in International sports
magazines. We have found an article in FourFourTwo magazine (England’s Famous Soccer Magazine), “Why the Best Have the Rage To Master,” that points out that praise for young athletes hinders their inner passion for the game. The significance of this article is why the best are the best in sports (soccer/football) and having just pure talent does not cut it but practice, love for the game and hard work are the key ingredients of being the best, like Lionel Messi or David Beckham.

In a youth soccer club, check out what praise the coach gives the player and how the young athlete processes what was praised to them.

Coach: “You learned that pass and move routine so quickly, it is unbelievable. You are brilliant!”
How Processed: If I don’t learn something quickly, I am not talented.

Coach: “James, that was the pass of the match. You could be the next Messi!”
How Processed: I shouldn’t try a really difficult pass, or they’ll see I’m no Messi.

Coach: “You are on fire. You learned to do that without even trying!”
How Processed: I’d better quit practicing too hard or they won’t think I am brilliant.

In this same article they shared the results of a study performed. A very simple test was given and they passed easily. Then when half the children were told their scores and then praised for being talented, astonishingly the same children took a similar simple test and their scores were lower. It was concluded that the children processed they were already talented and saw no need to study, practice or put forth effort. The remaining half of children were also told their test scores. The difference was they were acknowledged for the effort they put forth and the result was overall higher scores on the followup test.

We bring you back to one of our favorite books, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes (See all Psychology & Counseling Education & Training Books). Praising our children can be tempting, but just know more and more studies reveal it is damaging as it is for young athletes aspiring to become professional. Therefore youth coaches of children on the path to be professional athletes avoid praise and simply acknowledge them for the skill that is obviously obtained through diligent practice.

Understanding that some Family and Marriage Therapists are all for praising the child for every single “good” thing they do. We are educating and giving our Mother’s and families quite a different point of view on raising our children, but as you can see the evidence is clear based on the results of praising. Any of Alfie Kohn’s books offer strong evidence around the benefits of refraining from heavy praise and to be mindful of the motive behind the praise. We get asked time and time again, so what do you say to your child when they actually do something amazing? We say nothing or just state the fact…”Little Johnny, you kicked that ball to the fence.” or “Amy, you got an A on your report card, how does that feel to you?”.

To add their is another point this article in FourFourTwo acknowledged, practice. If you have ever read the book “Outliers,” you will know what I am talking about. For anyone to be great at anything, they need to have the internal desire and love it and have self motivation to practice or study for a tremendous amount of hours. Then after 10,000 hours of this they too become the “best” or an “expert.” It is what we teach our children and one of the many ways we are supportive toward what they love to do.

Our advice to our readers is to research this yourself and read the book, Punishment by Rewards and find out how you would rather raise your child. The choice is simple on my standpoint, I’d rather avoid praise based on the researched benefits to the wonderful and unique adults we are raising.

Outliers: The Story of Success
(See all Social Science Books)

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes (See all Psychology & Counseling Education & Training Books)

FourFourTwo, June 2011. Pg 85-87 Author: Matthew Syed


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