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Motivation: How Coaches & Leaders Can Influence Their Teams

Take the time to get to know how your athletes need to be motivated and you will have the beginning of a successful season.

A good athlete is not judged on how they perform when everything is going great, they are judged on how well they perform when things are not going so great. Motivation can come into question as a season drags on and adversity pops up, as it inevitably will. I think back to my own coaching career and I had my dream team in the winter of 2010. We were predicted to be the best team in the county and we lived up to those expectations. However, even with wins, there came some heartbreaking losses and our motivation was called into question. Every good coach, every good team, every good individual must take ownership of their motivation level in order to make it through the tough times.

Author and sport psychology expert, Dr. John F. Elliot had this excellent analogy that I think explains how important it is for coaches and people in leadership position to understand how to properly motivate. He said:

“Quantity versus quality is like trying to dig a hole with a thimble. Yes, you're working hard, but you're going to get beat by someone with a shovel. Give athletes great coaches and someone to teach them about maximizing performance and you’re giving them a shovel.”

I think coaches often fall into the trap of using physical punishments, yelling, belittling and negative feedback as the primary form of motivation. This can lead to players feeling unappreciated, fearful of mistakes, and lacking in self-confidence. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t get after your players for poor behavior, disrespect or misconduct. However, ask yourself this question: What percentage do you use physical exercise or yelling as your form of focus control or motivation in your practice?

Dr. Elliot gives some advice to coaches and athletes in the book The Sport Psychology Handbook, in which he outlines specific strategies and ideas to help foster and maintain high levels of motivation.

  • A good leader takes times to get to know his or her athletes to identify what makes them motivated. Some athletes are motivated by their own individual performance while others may get pumped up by the success of their team.
  • Motivation starts with a sense of purpose. Make sure the members of your team or group understand their role and value. This particularly applies to “reserve” players or players who don’t get as much playing time. Asking them to work their tails off in practice to get in the last two minutes of the game gets pretty old, pretty quick. Make sure they feel valued by getting feedback during practice and track their improvement.
  • As a coach or leader, focus on things you have control over and teach your players to do the same. Often time players get frustrated with conditions outside of their control which can lead to a lack in motivation.
  • Have fun! This may seem like an unlikely moderator to motivation, but the number one thing kids say they like about sports is that it is fun. Too often coaches diminish the fun to excessive focus on the negative. Of course you want your practices productive, efficient, and meaningful, but don’t forget to laugh from time to time.

In going back to Dr. Elliot’s comment, are you going to be the kind of coach to give your athletes a thimble or a shovel?  

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