In Coaching: Good/Bad/Unfair, Motivation/Goals, Problems in Youth Sports

As a coach you have an incredible amount of power to influence your athletes in a positive way, both in terms of their sportsmanship and generally as human beings.

MOTIVATION is a key element of this process.

Doing it wrong – by yelling, intimidation, humiliation, or other ineffective tactics – will only create negativity, fear, and frustration, setting your team up for eventual failure and possibly creating a terrible experience that’ll turn off your athletes from ever pursuing sports again. Doing it RIGHT, however, could make a huge difference in the lives of your athletes and in the overall success of your team, creating a ripple effect of positive results that’ll extend far beyond the sports arena.

I’m going to assume you’d much prefer the latter and that you’re the kind of coach who truly wants to fan the flames of greatness in EVERY athlete. By being the kind of coach your athletes trust, respect, and admire both on and off the field, you’ll help them reach their full potential by pushing themselves further than they ever thought they could go.

To help you do that, here are 5 techniques for being a winning motivator:

Model motivation in your own behavior.

You have to WALK YOUR TALK when it comes to motivation. You can’t expect athletes to respond with enthusiasm if you show up late, aren’t organized, or act like you’d rather be somewhere else. Your attitude, personality, and behavior EVERY DAY is crucial. Model someone who is passionate about coaching and the sport, who is having fun and is fired up about every practice and game. Smile, be energetic, move your body so you’re in the action right along with the athletes, give them high-fives at the end. If you EMBODY motivation, it’ll be irresistible for your athletes to feel it too.

Build self-esteem.

Anything you can do to genuinely build self-esteem in your athletes will pay off huge dividends in their attitude, work ethic, and performance. You want to BUILD, not tear down, their egos. How do you do this? Make them feel good about their efforts, even when they don’t succeed in getting the point/making good time/sticking the landing/etc. Recognize when they are doing their best and reward them for putting in 110%. Remind them of how much they’ve improved since the beginning of the season. Tell them how much potential you see in them and how they’re getting better with every practice. Give awards for things other than winning, like making an individual best time, or being a good team player. Tell their parents how proud you are of how their child athlete is doing so the parents can carry this positive feedback back home too. There are many ways to do this, but the key is to keep that self-esteem high in every player.

Assume the potential for greatness in EVERY athlete.

Whether you have a team or are working with individual athletes you are going to have some players who are “easy” because they seem built for success in that sport, show “natural talent”, or continually give great results by winning or scoring. You will also have athletes who are challenging because they are more quiet, get intimidated easily, or aren’t as fast or strong as the other players… at first. It’s crucial to treat every athlete with the same motivation and confidence that they are capable of being great. Don’t put yourself on cruise control for the rockstars while getting frustrated with the underdogs because in both situations you’re undercutting that athlete’s potential. Remember that talent, skills, and hard work can combine in an infinite amount of ways in different people, and you just never know how this will develop over time with the right coaching.

Recognize accomplishments.

You have to REGULARLY catch your athletes doing things RIGHT. You don’t have to baby them and have an “everybody is a winner” attitude, but don’t be stingy with your praise either. When an athlete makes a great pass, hits a personal best time, perfects a dribble, or otherwise does something noteworthy, TELL THEM! Better yet, tell them where the whole team can hear. This gives the athlete encouragement to keep up the great work, highlights a skill the other players should know is important, and helps elevate morale for the whole team because everyone will know that everyone else is doing their best. Just remember to spread that praise around so you’re not just boosting the egos of a select few.

Have a clear mission and a big “WHY”

Some days it’s going to be extra challenging to motivate your athletes. When the weather is cold, after a loss happens, or when they’re just not feeling up to doing drills. That’s when it’s important to have a big enough WHY, or an emotionally compelling reason to go for it. This can mobilize your efforts and enables your athletes to quickly regain their focus and gather the energy needed to do their best. The big WHY is also what ties together every single practice and game as a step forward towards reaching that ultimate goal. Your job as a coach is to bring that big WHY into the arena. Whether that big WHY is getting your team to a national championship, helping this athlete get a college scholarship, or that one get to Olympic tryouts. Help them to experience the big WHY in their imaginations, so they can use it as a reason to push themselves harder in practice.

Motivation is key, and you are the chief motivator for the whole team. Remember to do whatever you need to in order to keep your motivation and passion up. And one more thing… if all of the above doesn’t work, if you’ve got an athlete who’s a motivational flatliner and won’t respond no matter what you try after you’ve given it a significant amount of effort then know when it’s time to cut your losses and move on. You are not solely responsible for your athletes’ potential, they have to want it too and meet you half way.

How do you stay motivated or keep your athletes motivated?


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