03 December 2011

Cash rewards 2.0

I received quite a few emails about my post on Cash Rewards. I quickly wrote the piece immediately upon reading about ANFA’s announcement that they will award Rs.10,000 Rupees a month to players. Reflecting back on my original post I readily acknowledge that I did not articulate myself very well. So let me try to be more clear.

ANFA and Nepali sports associations in general have a long tradition of offering big cash rewards to players before high profile events such as the South Asian Games, Asian Games, SAFF Cup, etc. This is actually not unique and something that almost every sports association in the world does.

There is a big difference however on the reasoning behind the cash rewards. The more sophisticated sports associations across the globe offer cash rewards as a bonus to players for achieving an objective. In Nepal the cash rewards are basically a sports associations’ STRATEGY to win medals and trophies. That is to say that our sports associations actually believe that offering money will increase the chances of winning. 

One way to look at is that we use cash rewards as a carrot while most countries offer it as a dessert. Our way of thinking is flawed. Here is why:

Cash rewards basically serve one purpose – to motivate a player. Cash rewards will not make a player technically more proficient, increase their strength, expand their Game IQ (i.e. “Football IQ”), or develop their tactical awareness. Those are things that can only be developed and improved with years of top class training, coaching and playing. Training habits and game play will not magically get better in a matter of 24 hours, no matter what the incentive.

Nepali players are not underperforming because they lack motivation, they are producing poor results because of inferior training, coaching and access to competitive matches (“playing”).

When Nepali players attend meaningful international events where they have a realistic shot of doing well, I believe that they are very motivated. Contrary to what cynics say, our athletes do take a lot of pride in representing their country. I really don’t believe they suddenly think – “Oh wow! I’ve been offered an extra 1 Lakh Rupees if I win a medal, so now I’m really going to step it up and give an extra 5%”.

On the other hand our sports associations instead of devising sound long term strategies to develop our athletes tend to resort to gimmicks such as these financial incentives and then quickly absolve themselves of complacency and incompetence when results don’t go their way. “Well we offered them 1 Lakh Rupees, what more do you want us to do?” would be a typical response from them.

The proof is pretty much in the pudding as Nepal has miserably failed to make a mark in international sports, so clearly these motivational cash rewards aren’t working.

A parallel I like to draw is that of a parent that desperately wants their child to get First Division in the SLC exam. Do you believe offering a cash reward to a kid one night before the SLC exam is going to make any difference on the results? Perhaps the parent should have enrolled their child at Budhanilkantha School and instilled a good work ethic and discipline many years back if they were truly serious about their child doing well on the SLC exam.

This is not to say that these cash rewards might not have an impact on future athletes. Maybe there is a kid in Jhapa who is now inspired to become a footballer on hearing about ANFA’s generous rewards. If that’s the case – wonderful! But let us not be naive either. ANFA’s announcement has nothing to do with inspiring future footballers. It is clearly about winning the 2011 SAFF Cup, a prize that Ganesh Thapa desperately covets after failing to win a single meaningful tournament in his 15 years as ANFA President.

Nonetheless, whatever the motivation may be, I applaud ANFA for leaving no stone unturned in the last half-year to try and win this edition of the SAFF Cup. The cash rewards on offer will certainly be a great bonus for the players if they are able to fulfill the aspirations of Nepali football fans.