Quick Coaching Tips for Motivating Athletes
Motivation can be a tricky concept to master, as any sport psychologist will tell you there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to getting your team motivated for success. Psychologists have identified 2 types of motivation – intrinsic (motivation from within) and extrinsic (motivation because of outside rewards) – but even this doesn’t help with the precision so often needed in order to connect with an athlete so that he or she finds reason to do the little things needed for athletic success, like completing an extra rep in the weight room, or running an extra mile for better endurance and stamina.
Learn what kids value
I believe that the best way to increase motivation is to first look at what each individual athlete values. Coaches who take the time to know their players benefit in many ways, including learning what “buttons” to push when it comes to motivation. While one athlete might be motivated to play harder in order to get noticed by college coaches, another athlete might not care about playing at the college level and therefore not motivated to play any harder as a result. Delving deeper, some athletes are motivated to earn a starting position, while others are motivated to simply see the field after rehabilitating from an injury. And some athletes are motivated to simply have a uniform, regardless of whether they play much. As you can see from just these simple examples, athletes compete (and increase their motivation) based on different values.
B.F. Skinner once said that everything we do in life is to either gain pleasure or avoid pain, meaning that we usually work toward accomplishing things we like, and exert efforts to stay away from things we don’t want to happen. Using this template with athletes, it’s important for coaches to pick their spots when it comes to motivating through both reward as well as using potential realistic negative consequences. For example, with some athletes the focus might be mostly around the good things that happen through hard work, while other athletes might find more motivation by thinking about what could happen if they don’t put forth their best effort (i.e. reminding an athlete that a lack of effort could impact his or her chances of keeping a starting position). The idea here is not to regularly use fear, scare tactics, and taunting to motivate athletes, but instead to point out that some people are motivated by the fear of losing something more than they are in gaining something.
Quick Final Tips
- Get to know your players – begin each season with individual meetings with each kid, if possible.
- Use open-ended questions when you meet with your athletes (i.e. “Tell me some of the reasons why you play this sport”) and use the feedback wisely when it comes to future motivation
- Genuine, positive reinforcement should always be your default approach when dealing with tough kids who seem like they are not very motivated. Even if the results are not there, if you see a kid working hard be sure to offer genuine praise.
- Provide feedback – let your players know what they are doing well, and also keep track of the areas that still need improvement. Research shows that when athletes set specific, measurable, challenging goals it almost always increases motivation and persistence.