Definitely the carrot.
Although I don't know the origin of the carrot and the stick metaphor it's clear the tale of the donkey and the rider refers to motivation - and whether the greater incentive comes from the carrot or from the stick.
There is no question each style can motivate, but in the long run encouragement is certainly much more effective than punishment - producing athletes who pursue the sport because it is enjoyable rather than driven by some negative external influence.
Saturday night I attended Palatine HS's "Distance Night" in a NW suburb of Chicago where every race - whether the initial middle school competition, the Undercard high school races, or the "Main Events" with elite prep runners, was filled with excitement from top to bottom.
Nothing is more thrilling than watching that final gut-check portion of the race - when the fatigue is overwhelming and courage is wavering - where the true character of each athlete is laid out for all to see.
Though we don't where the motivation comes from - whether the carrot or the stick (and I hope it's the carrot), the ones who can produce the supreme effort down the final straight certainly have discovered what it takes.
But something has been lost in the translation when it comes to motivation. Where the carrot comes in and how it should be used.
Motivation should come from a self-produced desire to succeed - from reading a competitor's workout posted on Strava, or some online ranking of opponents, or even a meet where you're running against a big rival. From an innate desire.
If these aren't the main motivators...then something is wrong.
It can't be from a flashy $150 pair of spikes. Or from some ill-advised notion that an athletic scholarship is waiting for your son or daughter. Give me a break. How much money would you bet when the odds are 10,000 to 1 against you?
Yet parents hand out false carrots at the start of each season - as if the spikes will turn their son or daughter into a State Champion. That some inanimate object is going to be the deal-breaker. Turn their 5:10/4:24 into a 4:50/4:13 and garner money from some DI coach. Not in a million years.
Yes, the $150 spikes will help you run faster. And yes, they can be a good motivator. But if that is the biggest motivation then there is a problem. Reliance on a majority of external sources doesn't lead to long-term success. Ask any sports psychologist.
A treat from Dairy Queen is/was a huge motivator in my life, but if you believe a daily DQ treat would have motivated me to run 10-12 miles/day as a prep, or 12-15 as a collegiate then you are sadly misguided.
I would have just been a fat guy with a big smile.
First and foremost, teach children hard work, dedication, and a willingness to take chances are a vital fundamentals. It's not some random object. That these important internal tools are the ingredients found in every successful person. Do this and you will have given them the greatest gift of all.
And remember, fresh carrots are always a good choice - much better than DQ!