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Motivation strategies keep recreation program participants coming back

This is an excerpt from Leisure Program Planning and Delivery by Ruth V. Russell & Lynn M. Jamieson.

Another important function of staff is energizing participants, providing direction, and helping sustain recreational behavior (Russell, 2005). This is referred to as motivation. Motivation encompasses efforts to initiate, sustain, and stop behavior.

Because motivation is something within a person, we cannot describe the motivation of others directly. But research allows us to understand some principles of motivation. For example, positive reinforcement of a behavior increases the likelihood that the same behavior will be repeated, whereas negative reinforcement makes it more likely the same behavior will not be repeated.

There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation means the behavior itself is positively reinforcing. Intrinsic motivation is doing something simply because it is interesting and personally meaningful. Ideally, all recreation participation is intrinsically motivated. Indeed, as Iso-Ahola (1982) explains, the participant initially chooses a recreation activity with the expectation that the activity will provide a feeling of freedom of choice and competence. On the other hand, extrinsic motivation comes from outside the behavior. The positive reinforcement is artificially established-a prize can be won, recognition can be awarded, weight can be lost, others can be impressed. Recreation program staff are able to manage participant motivation through both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Increasing intrinsic motivation revolves around strategies to increase participants’ perceptions of success. Here are some suggestions (Weinberg & Gould, 1995; Bateman & Snell, 2002; Russell, 2005):

  • Match skill levels of participants with the challenges required in the activity (e.g., use higher-classified white-water rivers for experienced boaters); see the box on page 163.
  • Use verbal and nonverbal praise; this is especially important for participants who receive little recognition otherwise.
  • Involve participants in decision making; people perceive they have greater competency when they make their own decisions, which in turn increases intrinsic motivation.
  • Share the power with participants; confidence in one’s worth is profoundly motivating.
  • Be sure participants are ready to participate in the program (i.e., they have the knowledge and skills to enjoy a particular activity).
  • Enhance the appropriateness of physical properties of the program setting (e.g., lower the lighting, turn up the music volume, and watch them dance!).
  • Develop programs that include a planned progression. Some common examples are merit badges in scouting; A and B teams in sports; first, second, and third seats in an orchestra; and white, brown, and black belts in karate.

Using extrinsic motivation to guide recreation program interest and behavior is also common, especially when intrinsic motivation is not present. Here is a sampling of suggestions (Russell, 2005) for extrinsically motivating participation in recreation programs:

  • Emphasize the status of the activity. Provide membership cards, mugs, uniforms, patches, T-shirts, well-maintained equipment, and other status symbols.
  • Carefully employ well-planned and well-controlled competition. Although it runs the risk of going too far and becoming demotivating, competition can be used as an interest builder (see "How to Keep Competition’s Motivational Potential" on this page).
  • Capitalize on people’s desire to be part of a group. Peer pressure is a motivator in much the same way as announcing, "Only a few tickets left."
  • Offer prizes and rewards directly associated with the activity; blue ribbons, door prizes, gold stars, free gifts, coupons, and certificates are the most common.

In preparing to implement a recreation program, consider the role of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation techniques. If they would help ensure the safety and enjoyment of the experience, try to acquire staff with these abilities or this training.

This is an excerpt from Leisure Program Planning and Delivery.