Does Money Motivate Athletes? I Don’t Think So! by "The Prof"

Although I am talking about hockey here, I want to use two other Edmonton-based sports teams to make the point my point. I think the high salaries in hockey are creating a situation where hockey, as a sport, is suffering. Frankly, I don’t think we have a clue about what is best for hockey and, I believe, we will eventually pay for it.

Money does not motivate athletes in positive ways, and while our acceptance of high salaries in hockey might be good for some players in the short term, it is NOT good for the game or for the fans.

First, let me start with basketball. I would encourage all Edmonton sports fans to attend the International Basketball League’s Edmonton Energy games next year. The games are great, and I was struck by (1) the talent level of the players and (2) how hard athletes on both teams competed to win. At the game, I had a chance to meet and talk with one of the Energy’s owners, and he told me that these players made all of $110 Canadian each game. These players play for a number of different reasons, but money isn’t one of them.

Second, although I love the Oilers, I have to admit that my favorite Edmonton team is the Eskimos. I love the way these guys play for themselves and for each other – and all but a few are making less than $100,000 a year. They also are playing for a number of reasons, but money is NOT one of them.

I got to thinking about this when I saw the recent picture of Sheldon Souray and read the rumors about his being trade bait at the recent hockey draft. I wondered how it must make Sheldon Souray feel to be considered expendable. What if your girl friend, or father, or coach, or anyone you loved thought you were really NOT that important? I know how I would feel. Then, I wondered how motivated I would be to bust my butt for the team that so easily thought I was less important than some yet unknown draftee. I am a person after all, as is Sheldon Souray or Kyle Brodziak or Ryan Smyth.

My nickname for this blog is “The Prof,” and in truth I really am a university professor. My recent research has been on what makes good teams work well together and what also motivates people to work hard.

In the work teams I have recently talked with, one thing that comes out over and over again is that good teams care for each other and take care of each other – many times they use the phrase “we are a family.”

In 1979, “We Are Family” was a hit song by Sister Sledge and became the theme song for the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates who won baseball’s World Series that year. They really were a family. I loved the movie “The Replacements” where a bunch of guys replaced on-strike professional football players and made it into the playoffs. We love the theme of family in sports. It is highly motivating.

One thing we know about families is that they stick together.

Families would not find their sons or brothers or mother expendable.

Sadly, when money becomes the big motivator for athletes – and not team, community, or each other – we all suffer. How often have we heard “He (fill in the blank) will have a good year this year, because he is going to be a free agent next year?” In other words, we accept that players are NOT giving their all until they are up for a new contract. Sad, isn’t it?

In a blog earlier, I wrote about how I wanted to keep the Oilers together and see how we can shape this team to become a real part of the Edmonton-based community. I know we think this is important, because I see the way we all treat those horrible evil villains Chris Pronger and Mike Comrie. Why don’t we like these guys? The answer is because they didn’t like Edmonton enough to stay. See, we do believe in family and community after all.

I will probably write more about motivation later – but for right now, I want any thinking person out there to consider this. How are we ruining a great team sport like hockey by subjecting it to the seduction of money as a motivating factor? It won’t work for much longer – sooner or later we are going to ruin this great Canadian game.


When "The Prof" sent me a number of possible articles to post, I considered this the most relevant considering we are mere days away from the "free agent frenzy".

I love the start of free agency, but I must admit, I'm always baffled by the ability of countless GM's around the league to dish out absurd contracts and overpay in a bidding war. How many times do these players actually live up to the size of the contracts they receive? Briere, Drury, Gomez, Huet, Sundin, Campbell all come to mind.

We're all gonna feel this when we don't see the best hockey we can thanks to the inability of the NHL to play the best players thanks to riduculous contracts under an ever declining cap.

June 29, 2009 at 10:41 PM comment-delete

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