Motivation Do's and Dont's

Among all other responsibilities, coaches must focus on their athletes and keeping them committed to the game, to improving themselves, and to performing at their optimal level. When things are going well, motivation is easy, because players see the results in front of them. When progress is slow or results are not what you are hoping, motivation becomes an art form.

Motivation is mostly psychology. You must understand your athletes and what drives each of them to keep working. You also must understand group psychology, because your players feed off each other and greatly impact each other’s level of commitment and motivation. Finally, you must understand how and when to apply motivational techniques so as to encourage your players but not overwhelm them.

Coaches who understand the principles of motivation are able to develop and maintain a cache of positive strategies for helping athletes maximize their success and enjoyment of the sport. Together, we will develop motivational techniques that you can use as necessary to help keep your players motivated to their fullest.

Keeping it Positive

Positive motivational strategies are the basis of keeping players of all sports interested and excited about learning and improving.

Try these motivational strategies to keep players focused on the game, even far into the season:

Intrinsic and extrinsic rewards based on performance
Positive verbal feedback after good performance
Periodic team rewards, regardless of performance
Team leadership opportunities for high-performing players
Recognition for non-performance efforts, such as team leadership, dedication to learning, and good behavior
Use strategic surprises to encourage players to attend practices, work hard, and stay focused

Every Athlete is Different

Even at a young age, athletes are unique, and must be treated as so. Players find motivation in different things, and as a coach, your job is to discover what motivates each of your players and use that knowledge to bring out the best in each player.

When researching your players’ motivations, pay attention to these possible motivators:

Public praise
Private recognition
Personal achievement
Being part of a team
Excellence among peers
Preferential treatment
Leadership opportunities
Family recognition
Success in competition

Knowing what motivates your players will help you harness those factors. Working with each player to keep their motivation high benefits the entire team and cannot be overlooked.

Prevent Burnout by Designing Interventions

Overtraining is a serious possibility for many players, especially near the end of a season. To keep this from affecting your players, design interventions when you find players lacking in motivation.

Such interventions can include a personal discussion about how the player is feeling about the sport and the level of competition, a reward or other tangible benefit for making it through the season, or a positive evaluation about the player’s performance up to this point.

You can also create a team intervention if needed to help everyone stay single-minded for the rest of the season. Motivation principles show you that motivation should be used sparingly throughout the season when things are going well. Motivators should be unprovoked and meaningful for the player. They should elicit a positive response in preparation, performance, and behavior among players.

Focus on Both Effort and Achievement

Achievement is a huge motivator for most people, but players who are not high achievers still need motivation; arguably, they need more motivation than those players who can see their progress outright.

Coaches must create a positive learning environment that does not focus only on achievement. The point of a learning environment is that it allows for mistakes and differing speeds of progress. It merely puts an emphasis on the learning process and the effort that comes as part of improvement.

This emphasis on learning and effort, not just achievement, equals the playing field among athletes, which in itself is a huge motivator. If players feel that they have a chance to excel, they will do what they can to prove their superiority. By rewarding not just achievement but effort, you give those underdogs the motivation to keep working.

The Right Way to Give Feedback

If you give inadequate feedback to players and misguide them, your chances of appeasing them in the short term is great, but your chances of the plan backfiring is even greater. If the player were to find out about your untruths, it would ruin your relationship with the player and shatter their trust in your evaluations.

Feedback should not only be accurate but also be supportive. Even if you have negative conclusions to share with the player, you should say it in a way that supports the player and offers suggestions for improvement and show that regardless of performance, you do not judge the player.

Separate the player from the performance when giving feedback about failure. You can criticize a player’s ability and performance without chastising the player. By talking about the performance as apart from the player, you gain the advantage of supporting the player while not necessarily supporting the behavior.

Do Punishment Sprints Work?

There are appropriate and inappropriate means of disciplining athlete behavior. Inappropriate discipline is discipline that does not correspond with the problem. If behavior is the problem, do not discipline it with physical activity. Instead, treat the problem with a similar solution, such as discussion and behavior modification through psychology.

Physical activity is an inappropriate means of discipline because it gives a negative connotation to all types of activity. If your end goal is to motivate your players to continue to practice and improve, you must separate punishment from the activities you have them do on a regular basis.

For example, if you run sprints with your team during most practices, assigning extra sprints for disrespectful behavior immediately assigns a negative aspect to sprints, whereas they may have been completely neutral before.

Peer pressure is another inappropriate way to deal with poor athlete behavior. While team unity is good, team pressure is bad. It creates an oppressive environment in which athletes feel they must conform, even when they disagree with a practice or philosophy. Encourage individuality among players by avoiding the use of peer pressure or the condoning of such actions among players themselves.

Build Confidence in the Team and Individual

Athletes need to know that they can achieve on their own. For this reason, self-efficacy is an important part of motivation. If players feel that they are making improvements that they alone can credit, they instantly gain confidence and renewed vigor in their practices.

Confidence in the team is similar. When players work together to achieve something that they could not do on their own, or that no one has handed to them, they develop a sense of efficacy that spreads to individuals on the team and reflects positively on everyone. As a coach, you can increase this confidence by focusing on those times that players made changes all on their own.

Self-confidence or team confidence comes from knowing that you have done something well. Help your players feel that way by reinforcing past successes. Even in times of loss or slow progress, you can call on past successes to show players that there is a bigger picture.

Instead of getting too focused on the immediate problems, they can lift their eyes to the greater successes that they have achieved. This helps everyone keep their eyes on the goal and keep working for the next success.