Using Equity Theory to Coach Soccer

586 1024 Ellen Ensher
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By Evan Velastegui

I have always appreciated kids for their authenticity and emotional transparency. At Mar Vista, the after-school center at which I volunteer, the behaviors of the students I coach and play with often exemplify a range of motivational theories and demand thoughtfulness in my approach to each individual participant.

You see, defense is far from a priority for growing soccer players like the 3rd graders I coach at Mar Vista; instead, they focus all their attention on demanding the ball –“Pass! Pass! Pass!” –and taking shots on goal. But that’s not soccer! As I watched the kids crowd one another on offense and look staggeringly disengaged on defense, I wondered how I could motivate them to play both sides of the ball and considered what was motivating them currently.

I concluded that equity theory was in effect!

This motivational theory asserts that an individual’s inclination to work hard (input) depends on what he or she expects to gain from their expenditure (output) compared to one or multiple comparison others. In the case of Mar Vista soccer, defense functions as an input, while possessing the ball and scoring goals is the reward of this effort, and each participant represents a potential comparison for one another. Given this, it is understandable how a child, seeing other players disengage on defense and get the ball on offense, could resolve that the best course of action is to expend just as little effort to reap the same rewards. As the goalkeeper for one team, I saw a solution…

I began distributing my passes exclusively to those players who made an effort to play defense and then gradually, more and more of my teammates began running back to defend. I made sure that each willing defender had equal time with the ball and, as goalie, expressed my gratitude for their defensive efforts. By the end of the day, all my teammates were playing well-rounded soccer and even passing the ball to one another for the first time! I believe that, because the participants saw others enjoying the benefits of increased inputs/defense, they decided to follow suit in order to achieve the same outputs.

In this way, my understanding of motivational theories has not only made me a more insightful leader but given me the tools to facilitate positive change. Woohoo!