Encouragement vs. Praise

by | Dec 1, 2014 | 2014, Musings | 5 comments

fumbleOne of our elementary boys football teams lost every game this year. They were on the young side, had no experience and tended to enjoy each other’s company much more than learning football fundamentals.

After the last game, one of the boys gave his mom some very insightful feedback. He told her that the most frustrating part of the season was all the “positive encouragements.” He said that the parents just kept throwing comments at them, comments like “You guys did awesome,” “Great game,” and “Its just a learning experience.”

He said that he wished they would just stop trying so hard to make them feel better. Intuitively he knew they preformed poorly. His mom asked what he would have preferred to hear and he said, “Maybe just you tried your best, now suck it up and try again.”

After I heard of his exchange with his mom, I did some research into the difference between encouragement and praise for kids. As you might imagine, there are psychologists on all sides of the issue. Some were very worried about kids’ self esteem. Others were concerned about the “manipulating effect” some of these comments can have on the children. They warned against creating “praise junkies.”

Clearly the scripture enjoins us to be about the business of building up each other (Rom. 14:19), but I do think our culture has tipped the scales with its incessant praise. Not only does it give children a false sense of what life is really like, it can distort the very reason for doing our best. With too much praise, children eventually learn to do things not for their own sake or for the joy of the accomplishment, but only in order to please others.

There is a subtle difference between praise and encouragement. Praise tends to focus on the quality of the performance, but encouragement highlights the joy in the effort. There is a kind of judgment involved with praise, but encouragement fosters a kind of acceptance implying that we are all imperfect.

So this week, parents, coaches, teachers, let’s all encourage those children that are in our lives… but be careful to not over do it. Let’s tell that eleven year old, something like:  “I saw you try to throw a good spiral. I think some more practice would help. Want to hang out in the park this afternoon and throw a few?”

Maybe then they won’t reject our well-intended encouragement and try again!


  1. Janice

    My son who was on the team and said, ” Mom, even though we are losing, I’m having a good time.” I loved hearing that. All children are different. Mine happens to thrive on the. “good spiral, great perseverance praises.” In all honesty, I suppose we can all overdue the praise but hey, I’m my son’s biggest fan after all! Haha! Great post!

  2. Scott

    Having coached dozens of youth teams including Stoneybrooke soccer teams, I learned very early on that encouragement goes a long way. A kid or player will not only learn and apply what you are teaching them but they will do it because they WANT to not because you are demanding it. Then (and only then) when the goal is achieved the praise is appropriate and it is understood and respected by all. All friends, classmates, teammates etc will comprehend the achievement with the respect and dignity that the individual (or team) deserves. Many times praise is ample reward for hard work and accomplishment when it is not haphazardly doled out.

    “over due” is for library books
    “over do” is when it is exceedingly over the top.
    Just ask Mrs. Diebold.

Submit a Comment


 2020  2019  2018  2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010  2009  2008