Motivation can be quite a difficult topic, and yet it is one of the most important things to understand if you want to run a happy, healthy, and successful club.
Having had the experience of attending a variety of different martial arts and sports clubs over the years, I have had the chance to witness all kinds of attempts at motivation. Some of these have worked well. Some have fallen flat. Often, the instructors simply haven’t known any other way to try to motivate people.
In this article (a short one today), I would like to share some of my experience and to suggest some things to think about for yourself and your own students. There probably won’t be anything ground-breaking for experienced instructors, but it might be quite helpful for people who are relatively new to stepping up and running a club.
People tend to be either internally motivated or externally motivated. Therefore, the main difficulty with trying to help all the members of a club is how to strike the right balance between these types of motivation.
Internal motivation is where you can find all the drive you need from within yourself, without needing to receive any rewards to want to continue. For example, this could be characterised by statements such as: “I want to do this because it is cool, no other reason needed” or “I want to do this because I have this particular objective that I have set for myself, and I am perfectly happy as long as I am achieving this objective”.
External motivation is where you tend to be motivated best by receiving rewards or input from other people. For example, this could be characterised by statements such as: “I want to win medals” or “I want to earn my next belt” or “I get really pumped up when my coach encourages me to push myself further”.
Each of the founders or instructors at any given club will be motivated one way or another, and each of your potential members will be motivated one way or another. Either you try to cater for everyone (always difficult!), or you accept that your club is more likely going to cater for one group of people better than it does for others.
Personally, I am strongly internally motivated. Medals don’t really interest me that much, and having people shouting at me to work harder just annoys me. I’d much rather get better at my own pace, improving at the things that currently interest me about my fencing, and I don’t need any validation from anyone else to be happy to keep doing what I am doing. (Although it is always nice to hear some positive reinforcement when people like what I do – I’m not a robot!)
In fact, if people “try to help me” by trying to provide motivation, by shouting at me or telling me to push further during training, or by chanting my name at a tournament, it tends to annoy me or put me off my stride. I do my best work when I can get on with motivating myself.
At my HEMA club, the people who stay for at least a few months’ worth of sessions also tend to be those who are internally motivated. We don’t have a grading system at the club, so there are no new belts to work towards. I don’t push anyone to join tournaments, and I don’t yell at people to work harder – doing that sort of thing (and being a coach who does that sort of thing) doesn’t interest me, so I don’t do it.
Therefore, the people who need that sort of external motivation do not often receive it from me, or from our assistant instructors. It is clearly not the right kind of club for people who need that sort of input or motivation. I don’t see this as a failure on my part, and I don’t get upset when people stop coming for this reason. (I used to see it as a failure, and I used to be upset by it, but not anymore.)
These days, I recognise that our club is best for internally motivated people. And since externally motivated people need a coach and a club environment that can motivate them externally, it is not surprising that we don’t tend to retain such members. This is what happens when a club is focused more on providing a useful experience that will be of greatest appeal to one group of people. Other clubs do things differently and better serve other groups of people.
I will happily send people to other nearby clubs if I know that they need a form of input or training that I can’t give them. Since every club will have a slightly different atmosphere and culture, having multiple groups in the same area means that more people are likely to be able to find somewhere that feels comfortable, where they feel like they fit.
And if you can make your club’s culture and atmosphere obvious from your website and from first impressions in person, you will make it easier for people to decide that they will fit in with you and that your club will be a good place for them to come and train.
Some questions for you now.
How are you motivated, personally? Do you do HEMA because you enjoy the activity in and of itself, or do you do best when you have something concrete and external to work towards? How would you like the majority of your students to be motivated?
If there is a mismatch between the way you are motivated and the way your students are motivated, how do you usually solve this problem? Might there be a better way of solving it that will lead to less frustration on both sides?
Does your website, social media, and online presence showcase your club culture and the way you try to motivate people? Are you actually giving the wrong impression, and if so, can you do something to show it more correctly?
Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers. I teach regularly at Liverpool HEMA, and help behind the scenes with running HEMA in Glasgow at the Vanguard Centre.