Uncategorized | September 06, 2015

By Kristine Somerville

In addition to teaching, I funded my graduate education by working for MU’s athletic department. Teaching stipends were meager in the ‘90s, so if you wanted to be able to afford a few luxuries you followed the money—Mizzou athletics.

I supervised study halls and coordinated tutoring primarily for the football program during the era when they were notable losers. And I mean losers. There was the infamous televised game against Texas A & M when the Tigers lost 72-0. A & M has a tradition of students kissing in the stands when their team scores. (I told my students this and one asked the clarifying question, “Men kiss men?”) There was so much kissing going on that it looked like a two-hour infomercial for breath freshener. There was also the game against the University of Illinois when Mizzou did not make a single first down. Ugh. But I can say this all now that we are SEC champs.

During this era of failure the coaching staff employed every motivational technique they could think of to turn the team around. The walls of Tom Taylor, the main athletic facility, were lined with posters emblazoned with motivational slogans: “you can eat an elephant one bite at a time,” “it’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be,” “stop crying about who you want to be and start putting in work.” There was even a worn, curled poster of that damn cat trying to “hang in there.”

After some of the worse losses, the players were made to wear rubber bands around their wrists and occasionally ping themselves—snap back. They were given tennis balls—bounce back. (Great idea to give seventy unruly guys balls so that they can chuck them at each other, right?) And, perhaps most notably, they carried footballs cradled in their arms like newborns—protect the ball.

At the time I thought that this was all ridiculous, but some of it took. When I don’t want to write, do my class prep or am too tired for the gym, some of these slogans flow through my mind and actually help. I seldom skip out on the work that needs to get done. And yes, daily I trudge to the gym and put in an hour; after all, we’ve been given twenty-four of them.

I approached the subject of motivation with my writing students. I said, “I know that there’s a lot of temptation out there to lure you away from your school work. What keeps you on task?”

I promise you five out of seven of them said without hesitation, “$40,000.” That’s what it costs per year to attend the private college where I teach. I grinned. “Yep, that’s decent motivation.”

What motivational techniques do you use to get yourself writing? We would love to know.

Shameless contest plug: This is all in hopes of motivating you to submit to this year’s Jeffrey E. Smith Prize. It’s a biggie and far better for you careers than “snap back.”