Fear & Pleasure Tendencies and the Correlation to the right style of Coaching

Did you know that there are two main motivational tendencies in humans?

One is away from fear and one is towards pleasure.




Some people are motivated when they move away from fear, which is for example when they are faced with a painful situation like:

  • Getting kicked off a team
  • Being told their horse is too good for them and that they should consider selling it
  • Being told they are not good enough

“Away from fear” motivated people tend to respond to a situation like this, by stepping it up a gear.

They thrive on being challenged and their response is to prove the critics wrong.


Others are motivated when moving towards pleasure, which means they are drawn towards a pleasurable outcome such as:

  • Getting on a team
  • Being told that they are improving all the time
  • Being encouraged

“Towards pleasure” motivated people tend to get better with encouragement and praise.

They thrive on positive feedback, which increases confidence.

What generally happens, is that we encourage other people/riders the same way as we would like to be encouraged, and this can sometimes create a problem when the two tendencies collide.

We often encounter this with instructors and students.

Example:  if you have a ‘away from fear’ motivated instructor, which is often the motivational tendency in highly competitive riders, teaching a ‘towards pleasure’ motivated student can create conflict. What can happen is that the instructor tries to motivate the student by pointing out all the things that may bring them unstuck, like:

  • “If you keep being that nice to your horse you will never get anywhere”
  • “Unless you pull your finger out I guarantee you will crash and burn in your next competition”
  • “This horse is way too good for you so put more effort in and learn how to ride it.”

This is typical ‘away from fear’ language, which is intended to find an unpleasant experience and become motivated in avoiding the outcome.

To an ‘away from fear’ motivated rider the above language makes perfect sense and causes them to step it up to achieve the desired outcome.

However, if the student is ‘towards pleasure’ motivated they will probably interpret the above language very negatively and it might have the exact opposite effect on them.

They might feel that the instructor doesn’t think that they are good enough and as a result will loose confidence.

Positive, confidence reinforced language motivates a ‘towards pleasure’ rider, for example:

  • “You are doing a fantastic job, well done”
  • “You have improved so much and I am sure you’ll do very well at your next competition”
  • “You and your horse are a fantastic team, I am so proud of you both”

This language is far better for a ‘towards pleasure’ motivated rider as it draws them towards the pleasurable experience and therefore motivates them to keep going.



As you can see, both times the intention is to motivate and get the best out of the student. Therefore it is really important that you become aware of what motivational strategy you identify with and communicate in. If you are an instructor, what motivational strategy is your student speaking?

Make sure you are motivating them in a language that they understand.

In my time as a coach I have met many instructor/student combinations that were experiencing the above conflict without being aware of what the problem was. My advice to you is, have a clear and open conversation with your instructor/student asking them how they feel and what they actually mean when they say certain things. Also be open on how you feel and what you need to hear in order to achieve your desired outcomes.

Clear and open conversation is the key to resolving conflict.

Happy riding,



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