The other day I attended the fall sports awards at the HS where I coach. It was a great night and I enjoyed it just as much as I did as an athlete. It got me thinking why awards are important in general and especially in running? Running does not always get big press or big headlines in this country. Most people might be familiar with a few athletes. Maybe they know Usain Bolt or Allison Felix, but beyond that only true fans can drop names of other famous runners. Even amongst fellow classmates in school, most do not understand the sacrifices and time that goes into running almost every day. Awards are a great time to share that with people and to recognize the accomplishments achieved during a season.
Most runners start their careers in a sort of state of the unknown. At the beginning conditioning is such an issue that it takes up most of their thoughts. As they progress however, the paradigm shifts to a combination of intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards. Many runners are satisfied just by improved health and conditioning, while some are looking to achieve notoriety and recognition. I certainly think a balance between these two forces can be healthy for the runner to provide motivation and structure.
Issues can arise when runners concentrate on only extrinsic motivation. Some runners feel they have failed if they did not get a medal, or break the top 10. These days with online results available within minutes it can be addicting to analyze the results, not only of races where they have competed, but to follow and track runners from other teams, cities, and regions. Also, outside of scholastic running, the local running circuit has road races every week and it is easy to find out what prizes one might have a chance to win if so inclined.
The greatness of running is that there are so many ways to measure success. A new runner who improves from the beginning of a season to the end; a more experienced runner who cracks the top group on his/her team; or a seasoned runner who sets a PR, to name a few. Success could also be outside of one’s personal achievements. Perhaps an athlete was able to encourage others on their team to reach higher than they believed! Awards are a great way to recognize these achievements. Although some races hand out medals to every participant, I feel that the awards that are harder to obtain are the ones that tend to have more meaning. We can’t always recognize every athlete on a team or in a race, but runners know deep in their hearts and minds if they have given the best they could have and maybe awards are something they can shoot for the next time out.
Still, athletes and coaches should focus on developing intrinsic motivation to develop successful athletes and people. This can be done by asking athletes to have clear and relevant individual and team goals. It is important for athletes to realize what they can do themselves or as a group to develop their skills. They will feel rewarded when they reach those goals without necessarily receiving a material reward, medal, or trophy!