In our modern capitalist free market society that we live in it is generally accepted that to make people perform better you must incentivize them. Professional soccer players almost universally have many different performance bonus related clauses written into their contracts. Zlatan Ibrahimovich earned just over $140000 for each of his 28 goals scored for Manchester United in the 2016-2017 season. Social science has repeatedly investigated these sorts of incentives to find out just how effective they are in driving people to perform better in relation to their tasks, and time and time again have found that this approach actually has a negative effect on performance!
At various times over the past five years we have overheard players taking amongst themselves about the sort of incentives they are being offered by parents. The one most typically overheard is similar to Ibra’s, and offers cash for every goal the individual player scores. As coaches we tend to flinch at such notions, after all we want players to make decisions based on what is best for the team rather than for their wallet. However, if we consider the results of numerous experiments run to investigate the results of reward based behavior we can see that it actually inhibits the individual or group in their performance.
Without delving too deeply into the details, studies show that for mechanistic, routine work, performance incentives do lead to better results but for work that demands critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving, incentives actually cause the individual to narrow their focus, to not see the big picture, and therefore to actually become worse at the task in hand. For soccer players incentives are actually likely to impede performance.
We would suggest that intrinsic motivation is the most powerful way to incentivize players. That is the motivation of the player to engage in certain behaviors because it is naturally satisfying to the player. If a player enjoys the game, is empowered to make their own decisions, and is not presented with any external carrots or sticks, they will be able to drive themselves to perform better.