Reader But Sports Are Good For Kids writes,
What is the consensus (yours included) on bribing your kids to get involved in sports? Our son has to agree to take ONE season of soccer and baseball in return for an iPhone. My sister points out that he already has a computer in his bedroom and an iPad which rarely leaves his hands. However, our son is 11 and we are desperate for him to be active as now he spends most days inside, playing games or watching TV. In the past, he has continually said no to sports and used to pitch epic fits when he played Little League. He said he will only agree if he gets something BIG. Thank you!
Psychologically speaking, the iPhone is called an extrinsic motivator. That's something external used to motivate you, versus intrinsic motivation that comes from within. Research shows that extrinsic reinforcers actually suck out all the natural joy from whatever you're being rewarded for. People doing something for free derive much more satisfaction out of it than people paid for it, particularly in the case of something they didn't want to do to begin with.
An iPhone may coerce your son into playing one season of sports but he'll hate it. And he will likely resent you for it. This idea that kids all grow up and thank their parents for making them do stupid useless things that are in line with their own values and not their kids' values is mythological. I was forced to go to a sports oriented camp for about 6 years and I hated it equally on the last day of the last year as the first day of the first year. I wish I hadn't gone. I learned nothing except how to identify other misfits by the expression on their faces when the counselor announced that we would be playing Bonanza (anything besides joy = potential friend). I also learned that when you're crap at something, other people make fun of you. And I knew that already, so that one doesn't count.
Kids don't grow up and think they should have been forced to do more stuff against their will when they were 11. Therapy is filled with people saying things like, "You think that's bad? My parents BRIBED ME WITH ELECTRONIC DEVICES to force me to be a jock. Thank God for my highschool music teacher noticing my true talent, or I never would have gotten into Juilliard." A best case scenario is, "Yeah, Mom and Dad meant well and I love them, but boy, they really didn't know me at all."
In reality, you're trying to inflict your own value system on your son, and unless he's a robot, this will make him mad. You say that sports are good for kids, but why? This kid has tried sports for years and always hated it. Maybe he's an introvert or a Highly Sensitive Child, in which case, speaking from personal experience, teams are unbearable. (My entire career has been built around avoiding having to work on anything resembling a team.) If you want your son to socialize, there are plenty of clubs and groups. If you want to encourage physical fitness, go running or swimming with him, or give him free rein to take any lesson in anything he wants.
To conclude, if your kid just wants to do his own thing, let him. Do you think Einstein spent his childhood playing Little League? I'm going to guess not. You cannot force someone to enjoy something. Only in adulthood have I learned to enjoy exercise, because I found something I liked, not because someone who thought they knew better than me forced me to do it. Try to introspect about whether you accept your child for who he is. Did a parent force you into doing stuff and you have convinced yourself that that's what "good parents" do? Did a parent only accept you when you did what they wanted? Did you learn to trust your own idea of who you are and what you value? If so, it is unlikely you were bribed into having a different personality.
Incidentally, do you know how the other boys will treat a kid who's bad at sports and loses his temper over it? Yes, that's right. Like crap. Why subject him to that?
To conclude, I say, leave him alone and give him the iPhone money in cash that he can donate to any organization that he wants. Then even if you didn't force him to enjoy sports, you taught him about charity, and that has to be as good as "sportsmanship" or whatever you're aiming for. Or else spend it on entomology camp or something.
Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, There's No "Blogapist" in "TEAM."