"Much of life is affected by motivation and achievement," said Ronald Smith, a UW psychology professor and lead author of a new study. "Our study looked at children 9 to 13 years of age and there was no difference by age or sex. And it was also significant because it shows the influence of a mastery climate on children's achievement goals in a relatively short time, 12 weeks."
For several decades psychologists have believed that children under the age of 11 or 12 could not distinguish between effort and ability. That still may be true when it comes to academics, but the new research indicates that children as young as 9 can tell the difference between the two while participating in sports.
Frank Smoll, another UW psychology professor and co-author of the paper, said the research shows the importance of youth sport coaches at an earlier age than previously thought. The study was recently published in the journal Motivation and Emotion.
"A coach can be the first non-parental figure who is a youngster's hero. People who volunteer to coach year after year don't affect just a few kids. They can be influencing thousands at very early ages," he said.
A previously published paper by the researchers from the same project showed that young athletes who played for coaches who were taught how to create a mastery climate reported lower levels of sport anxiety compared to youngsters who played for coaches who were not trained. The research also was the first to show that a coaching intervention is as effective with girls as it is with boys.
The new study found that athletes who played for coaches who used a mastery climate showed such things as greater enjoyment of basketball over the course of the season. In addition, levels of ego orientation dropped. The opposite was true for athletes playing for coaches relying on an ego-oriented style of leadership. These finding held for athletes across all ages.
"One consistent finding of our research is that a mastery climate retains more youngsters in sports. It keeps them coming back," said Smith. "Retention is a huge problem in some youth sports programs. An important reason to keep kids involved in sports is that it reduces obesity by helping them be more active."
Source: University of Washington
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