Archive for November, 2014

Extrinsic Motivation Part III: Sugar factories and braces

November 28, 2014

When she was a child, she dreamt of graduating from a Bangkok university but realised that the family’s modest income, with father working at a sugar factory in Ratchaburi, wasn’t going to fully cover her study costs. To accomplish her goal, she needed to get a scholarship. With her brother emerging as a keen footballer and her elder sister in the school volleyball team, she decided to focus on sports.

I’ve previously written about extrinsic motivation here and here, and how in contemporary western culture, we underestimate its value in preference to encouraging in children a sense of intrinsic motivation towards what they choose to do.

The above is an extract from a Volleywood article about Thai setter Nootsara, who is part of the enormously popular Thai Women’s national team. It’s a great example of the power of extrinsic motivation.

I’m not sure how much it costs to send someone to a Bangkok university, but for less than A$1000 a year, you could pay for a year’s tuition and boarding expenses at the university where our liaisons for AVC U17s studied. It’s not that much money, but for Nootsara being very good at volleyball was the difference between getting a university education or not.

While many of the young players I work with have aspirations to get a playing scholarship in the US or Canada, it’s not quite the same motivation. They can still settle for a decent education in Australia if they don’t get there.

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High profile players with braces: #10 WIlavan, #6 Onuma, #5 Pleumjit and #13 Nootsara.

The image above comes from a promotional newspaper sized handout about the Thai women’s national team and their apparel sponsor, Grand Sport. Interestingly in the photo 3 of the 4 higher profile players WIlavan, Pleumjit and Ouma all have braces on their teeth (the 4th player, #13 Nootsara actually has them too). They make no attempt to conceal it. Included in the handout is an A2 sized poster of the 14 players squad, and you can see 11 players smiling with braces. These players are in their mid 20s or older.

While having braces is an awful, awkward rite of passage or most Australians, the privilege of straight teeth is not something to be taken for granted in Thailand.

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3 days before the U17G Asian Volleyball Championships started, we got to play the Thai U17G team. They were significantly stronger and probably got no value out of the exercise. They probably agreed to play us out of courtesy from the good relationship our federations have with each other. Certainly China, Japan, Korea and Taipei would have said no. And of course we were soundly beaten. Beaten by players for whom volleyball can make the difference between getting a university education or not; the difference between getting straight teeth or not; and the chance to be part of the most popular sports team in the country. They were armed with far superior skill – the kind of skill forged from thousands of hours of highly motivated practice from people who were simply hungrier. We didn’t stand a chance.

These are sobering thoughts as I come back home to my job which currently involves replacing 133 of my public servant colleagues with a foreign multinational corporation. As the economic borders around us break down, more and more average Australians will have to compete like my volleyball team for a livelihood – against people simply hungrier than them.

Maybe that’s why I’m so passionate about working in our national programs. Because it’s a chance to expose people to a real level of competition that isn’t the false economy we have been used to for years. We are so used to seeing what it means to be the best country at AFL Football, Netball and Rugby League that it’s refreshing to see what it’s like to compete in a sport that a significant number of other countries actually give a shit about.