In Newsletters

Aug-Sept, 1999


Let’s get motivated!

GETTING OFF ON THE RIGHT FOOT: Fall is here. What do you need to do to make this year a championship one? As an athlete, how do you motivate yourself to lift the level of your training? As a coach, what can you do to make this season a winning one in every sense of the word. As a parent, what role should you play to insure that your child maintains his/her motivation and has a championship season? The start of a new season is exciting and filled with so much hope and promise. This month’s edition of Competitive Advantage’s Mental Toughness Newsletter will address how to take this excitement and begin to channel it into peak performance.


“So you really want to impress the coach? Here’s how!”

Taking your training to the next level” As I watched the first week of practice come to an end, I couldn’t help but think about that small group of athletes that I had heard grumbling and mumbling almost daily. The coaches were too hard. It was too hot out! They were too tired and hurting too much to do the wind-sprints at the end of practice. They hated the coaches’ drills. They wanted to rest. My word! The season hadn’t even started and they were already complaining! Obviously these athletes didn’t even have a clue about what a winning attitude was.

It made me think about a question I frequently ask athletes about their training and life: Do you know what road you’re on? Imagine that you’ve been traveling along a road and it suddenly forks left and right. You’re standing at the crossroads and you now have an important decision to make. Which road will you take? Imagine that if you took the left fork, you’d end up in “La La Land”, a wondrous place where all your minimal efforts will reward you with supreme mediocrity. Should you decide to take the right fork, you’d end up in the Champion’s Zone, a place where you will realize your goals and have to contend with a terrible amount of success. Every day in practice, school, work and life you are confronted with this same choice point over and over again. Exactly what do these choices look like?

You have a tough decision to make about staying up late and partying with your friends or going to bed early so you can make an early morning workout. If you party hardy with your buds and blow the work-out off, then you’ve just chosen the left fork, to “La La Land.” If you back down from sprints at the end of practice with the reasoning that the coach isn’t looking and it won’t hurt anyone, you’ve just chosen the left fork. If you actively avoid working on your weaknesses and just practice what you’re good at, then you’ve chosen the left fork.

However, if you go to bed early and forget your friends for that evening because it’s critical for you to be rested for the next morning’s workout, then you’ve taken the right fork. If you go even harder when your body is begging you to stop, then you’ve just chosen the right fork. If you continually work on your weaknesses because you understand that you can’t really get stronger as an athlete without doing this, then you’ve taken the right road.

When you continuously find yourself at this crossroads as your new season begins, understand one thing. Choose the left fork enough times and you’ll go absolutely nowhere fast as an athlete and a person. Make a habit of choosing the right fork over and over again and you’ll turn all your dreams into a reality.

Obviously you and I know which road of the two is the easiest to take. It doesn’t take much will power, character or discipline to choose the left fork. It’s easy to skip practice, cheat on drills or break the training diet. Similarly, it’s quite clear that the right fork is by far the more difficult one. So a question may readily pop into your mind. Why bother sacrificing, hurting, pushing your body beyond its limits and passing up on the opportunities to hang out with your buds? Why would anyone in their right mind consistently take the right road given all the hardship, effort and sacrifice that it entails? Simple answer! You have to want to. You have to have an important reason to. You have to have what I call a “Big Enough WHY.” A “Big Enough Why” is an emotionally compelling reason to do the right thing. It’s a goal or dream that is important enough to you, that you not only don’t mind sweating, hurting and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, but you choose to. Do you have a big enough “WHY?” Do you have a dream or goal that is important to you? Are you just going through the motions when you work out, or are you going someplace special? If you want to get much more out of your training, if you really want to improve the quality of your workouts, then your efforts need to be closely connected with your “big enough why” each and every day.

In other words, you have to channel your daily efforts in a specific direction. Motivation is all about having this direction.

This means that you have to know how what you’re doing today in practice will help you move closer to that goal of yours in the future. In a sense this means that you have to take responsibility for your training. You can’t just leave it up to the coaches. Complaining about having to run extra sprints or putting out a half-hearted effort in practice is not taking responsibility for your training.

Many elite athletes credit their success to being able to bring their big goal into practice with them on a daily basis. In this way, when they’re confronted with that crossroad and trying to decide whether to ease up and take the left fork or to go for it and take the more difficult right one, the decision becomes easy. In fact, one of the main reasons that athletes fail to reach their goals is because they don’t do this. They don’t keep that “big why” with them every day. They lose sight of it. Without having an awareness of why you are out there, you might make the mistake of trading what you want the most, your “big enough why” for what you may want right now, (to rest, to back down from the pain, etc.).

So what can you do to stay motivated and lift the level of your training? Develop a “big enough why.” Have an important goal for yourself this season. One that really means something to you and that you can get excited about. Make sure the goal belongs to you and no one else. Write that “big why” down on a piece of paper and post it in your room in a highly visible place. Look at it often and let yourself daydream about what it will be like when you achieve it. It’s important that you keep it fresh in your mind and keeping it posted will accomplish this. When you go to practice ask yourself, “what small piece can I work on today that will help me move just a little bit closer to my “big why.” Understand that every day is an important day to train, especially those really bad ones! Each time you get out there, you’re potentially moving in the right direction. Continuously remind yourself about that crossroad and ask yourself whether you’re taking the right road. When you climb into bed at night, mentally rehearse successfully working towards that goal.

Motivation is mostly something that you generate from within. It’s fueled by your love and passion for the sport and your “big enough why.” Don’t let yourself just go through the motions when you train. Too many athletes make that mistake and train as if they were “clock watchers.” They just put their time in and not much else. To really excel in your sport and to take your training to the next level you have to invest not just your time and effort, but also your heart. Start off on the right foot by committing yourself to that “big why” and then going for it every day!


Parents & Motivation: What’s your role?

Two weeks ago I was in the middle of a tennis match when I was distracted by a rather loud, incredibly annoying voice coming from 10 courts away. When I looked over, I saw a father giving his 12-year old son what looked to be a tennis lesson. The boy was up for a tennis camp for the entire week and it seems that Dad decided to also make the trip so he could spend some quality time with his son and give him a little extra “instruction.” I guess the 7 plus hours a day the boy was already getting at the camp wasn’t quiteenough. Perhaps the boy wasn’t motivated enough. As I listened and watched this father angrily gesture at his son, I wondered if he had any inkling of the damage that he was doing. His tone was impatient and abusive, as if he couldn’t understand why his son was unable to do exactly what he was asking. I wonder if somehow he thought his frustration would somehow motivate his boy to do better. A minor point here. As a teaching pro with 22 years experience what Dad was saying did not exactly constitute high quality instruction. To put it quite bluntly, Dad did not know what he was talking about. But even if he did, it wouldn’t have mattered. The way that he was interacting with his boy was more of the issue. He was pushing, prodding, demeaning and bottom line, emotionally abusing his son. Is this motivation? The irony of all this is that dear old Dad probably had no awareness at all of the harm that he was doing. Here he had taken a whole week off from work to have a special bonding experience with little Johnny. He was being a good Dad. And I bet his heart was in the right place too. I’m sure he really wanted his young son to grow up happy, with a passionate love for the sport and some talent as a tennis player. Unfortunately he was going about this completely wrong! I’ve seen this scenario played out too many times before to not see the handwriting on the wall. Little Johnny is going to get so fed up with Dad’s “help” that he’s going to begin to hate both tennis and Dad. Soon he’ll quit tennis and have nothing to do with Dad. Do you really want to motivate your child to reach his/her potential as an athlete? Do you really want them to go “all the way”, or at least as far as possible? If your answer to these questions is a resounding “yes” and you’re truly serious about giving your child as big a motivational boost as possible, then read the following very carefully.

Pushing your child towards certain athletic goals that they may or may not have will backfire in your face! It is not your job to motivate your child-athlete. It is not your job to push or pressure them. Doing this will only kill their love for the sport and cause them to ultimately lose respect for you. In later years they will not gratefully thank you in their Nike commercial.

Your children’s motivation to participate and excel in a sport is something that should come from within them, not you. They should compete because they want to. They should practice because they want to. They should have their own reasons and own goals. They should pursue their own dreams. I don’t mean to be harsh here, but when it comes to your child’s sport, your dreams don’t count. They are not important to this picture. Your child’s sport is not a chance for you to work out your own frustrated athletic career or to relive a championship one. You’ve had your chance, whether it was fair or not, and now it’s their turn. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take an active interest in their sport.

I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t provide them with all the opportunities possible to excel. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t chauffer them around to games and practices. Nor am I saying that you shouldn’t throw, kick, or bat a ball around with them. If they really want you to, you should do all of this. What I am saying is that their love and interest in the sport should be your guide for how much that you do, not your love and interest. Remember, this is their sport, not yours. The pushing and outside motivation should come from the coach. Your primary role as far as motivation goes is to support and love your children unconditionally, regardless of how fast they run, how far they hit the ball or how many points they score. If you really want to motivate your children, then you will also be smart enough to not pay them, bribe them, or offer material incentives for certain levels of effort or performance. Offering these kinds of extrinsic sources of motivation will distract them from what’s really important in their performance, interfere with them doing their best and ultimately will serve as a de-motivator! A father was excited that his Little League progeny was lighting opposing pitchers up for a .575 average. Dad, however, wanted to motivate his future Major Leaguer to do even better so he offered him this motivating incentive package. “For every homerun that you hit I’ll pay you $5.00. Get a triple and you’ll make $3.00, a double and I’ll pay you $2.00, and every time you single I’ll give you a buck!” His inspired son then proceeded to begin to think too much about getting a hit, started trying too hard and slipped into a hitting slump that saw his batting average drop below .200 before the season ended. Remember, this is your child’s sport. Offering payments and bribes for performance is selfish because it’s ultimately done for you, the parent, not for your son or daughter. Playing and loving the sport is all the “payment” a child needs. Love, encourage and support them, but leave the pushing and motivating to the coach. Driving your children mercilessly like that tennis father will get you some success in the beginning. Your child will reluctantly get good at his sport. However, ultimately you will have to pay a huge price for your pushing and what it may cost you is your relationship with your child later in life. Try to keep in mind that long after the gloves, bats, racquets, balls and other paraphernalia of youth sports are put away, when your child has grown and left home, hopefully by then you will still be able to maintain a rich, loving relationship with them and your future grandchildren. Freaking out because they are not practicing hard enough or playing up to your standards of excellence seems to pale in importance when compared to this.


“Motivating your team for a championship season”

So what’s the secret to motivation? What magic gimmicks or inspirational stories do you need to use to get your athletes inspired enough to go throug h the wall for you? Should you rip pre-cut hats on the sidelines like Woody Hayes use to do? Perhaps a strategically placed temper tantrum that will get you thrown out of the game will do the trick? Maybe if you really challenged the character of your athletes that would get them really fired up?

Forget all of these techniques! Motivating your athletes isn’t about gimmicks, tricks or inspirational stories. It’s about two things: First, the relationship that you develop with each one of your athletes. This is what fuels his or her motivation; Second, the role that you play in helping your athletes set and stay focused on the right goals.

In a past issue, (Vol. 1, #1 “What makes a good coach?”), I discussed in depth the importance of the relationship that you develop with each and every athlete as a powerful source of motivation. How you treat your athletes, how you make them feel about themselves, how you conduct yourself in front of them, your level of honesty, integrity and trustworthiness, the enthusiasm and energy that you bring to the job and your interactions with them all directly affect how motivated they will be to put it all on the line for you. Remember, relationships motivate athletes, not gimmicks or a superb command of the sport’s technique and strategy.

In this article, I’d like to focus on the second important component in motivation, goals, and your role as a coach’s in the goal-setting process.

Unfortunately, most of us have a tendency to glaze over whenever someone begins to talk about goal setting. However, boring or not, the goals thatyou set with your team and how you then use these over the course of the season form the foundation for a successful year. Most coaches will have some form of goal setting meeting with their athletes at the beginning of the year. In it, they usually talk about their goals for the team, their vision and what they want to accomplish. This is all well and good if your athletes buy into and adopt your goals. However, if your team is motivated by something other than your goals, if they have a different dream, (for example, to take “not breaking a sweat” to another level), then you and they will end up butting heads a lot and everyone will have a very frustrating time. When you and your staff set the goals for the team, you’ll usually end up with athletes who will put in their time, maybe even give you a bit of effort, but not much else. However, if you involve them in the goal setting process, if you seek out their desires for the year, if you ask them what’s important for them to accomplish, then you’ll get athletes who will give you their time, effort and heart. Remember, motivation is all about having a direction. Every one of the athletes on your squad is motivated. A bigger question is, motivated to do what? Some of your athletes are motivated to get a varsity letter. Some are motivated to be the best little social butterfly they can be. Some are motivated to win or be the best, while others simply get great pleasure in frustrating and annoying the coaches. So how do you get every one on the same page with goals that jive with yours? How do you steer every one in the same direction?

A common coaches’ lament that I frequently hear at conferences is that “athletes today just aren’t the same as when I was competing. They just don’t have the desire, the hunger like we had. They’re just too damn soft!” When you add this frustration to the reality that most coaches are completely committed to the pursuit of excellence and the value of hard work while many athletes are not, you end up with a potentially frustrating and maddening situation for the coach. What can you do about it?

Let’s start with one given, especially if you are not coaching in college at a Division I level. There are some kids that can’t be motivated. You are not a motivational filling station where the listless, apathetic and disinterested come for a full tank of high test. The truth of the matter is that some kids on your team are motivational flat-liners. They don’t care, don’t have the desire inside and no amount of effort on your part will change that. For you to be effective as a motivator, your athletes have to have something inside of them, at least a spark or two. Your job is to help kindle that spark into flame and to help fan that flame into a fire. You do this by helping each athlete and the team as a whole, get in touch with their “big enough why.” Athletes have to have an emotionally compelling reason to work hard. They have to have a goal or dream that is important enough to them that they are willing to bust their butts, sacrifice and go that extra mile.

In a beginning of the season “goal party” you can ask the team to come up with some personally meaningful goals. What would they like to accomplish this year? What would make them feel like winners? Have them generate a list. Sometimes it’s really useful to start this “goal party” with the end in mind. In other words, have them work backwards from the end of the season to the present. What would a successful, winning year look like? What would they have accomplished? How did they get along as a team? etc. It will usually be much easier to weave your goals and expectations into this process at this point. Throughout the process, you can certainly monitor their goals regarding how challenging and realistic they are. I would suggest puttingthe agreed upon goals down in writing and having each athlete commit themselves to these goals in writing.

As far as the nature of these goals, you can balance “outcome” and “process” goals. Examples of outcome goals are “winning the league title”, “increasing our team free throw percentage to 75%”, “finishing 5 runners in the top 8 at championships” or going undefeated. Examples of process goals are having weekly, 45-minute team building meetings, spending 30 minutes a day after practice shooting free throws, take a problem with a teammate directly to that team member, participate in mental toughness training three times per week, etc.

Depending upon your sport, it may also be quite useful to sit down with each athlete and work with him/her to clarify individual goals. The whole purpose of this or any goal meeting is to help keep the athlete moving in the right direction. Clearly spelled out goals make up your map to success.

Furthermore, breaking down the season ending “outcome goals” into weekly and daily “process goals” helps the athletes stay properly focused and motivated. For example, winning the Conference Championships, an outcome goal, might mean that the team has to build up both their physical endurance and strength. Both of these can be worked on weekly and daily through the process goals of doing 10 minutes of wind sprints daily, a timed, two-mile run, three times a week, and 45 minutes of specific strength training, three times a week.

The most important factor in the success of any goal setting program rests with you as the coach “reminding” your players “why” they are out there that day. By helping them connect with their “big enough why” or goals on a daily basis you will help them stay focused and increase the quality of their training effort. It’s the losing sight of the goals or the inability to connect what we’re doing today in practice with the long-term goal that most frequently leads to loss of motivation and failure. Don’t expect that most of your athletes will make this connection by themselves. It’s only a rare few that are self-motivated to keep focused on their “big enough why” every day.

Success over the season means that your athletes have to live the winner’s creed, GET COMFORTABLE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE. In other words you have to continually step outside of your comfort zone to grow as an athlete. You have to challenge yourself and “push your envelope” so-to-speak. Unfortunately most athletes have trouble doing this for themselves. This is where good coaching and motivation comes in. By continually reminding your athletes of that “big why” that they committed to in the beginning of the season, it will be easier for them to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

GIGO & Peak Performance

What kind of “mental diet” are you on as an athlete? Are you a mental trash food junkie, regularly feeding yourself garbage like negativity, “can’t”, “never” and “impossible?” As a coach, do you consistently serve up a heaping platter of “trash” to your athletes? GIGO is the acronym for GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT. This is “computer speak” for what happens when you program the wrong commands (i.e. garbage) into your computer. You get “garbage” (the program won’t run) and much frustration back out!

What’s this got to do with athletes and coaches? EVERYTHING! If you program “mental garbage” into your computer, i.e. your brain (“I can’t do this”, “We’ll never beat them”, “I suck”, “I always fall apart under pressure”, “The refs are unfair”) then you’ll consistently get back out “garbage” as a result, (low confidence, increased tension and poor performance).

“Garbage in” is quite simply any kind of negative thinking. As an athlete, if you consistently feed yourself negative thoughts you will be plagued with self-doubts and sub-par performances. Start today to program in “good stuff”, not trash. Begin to get in the habit of feeding yourself positive thoughts, even if you don’t believe them in the beginning. Things like, “I can do it!”, “I’ll try” “Anything’s possible”, etc. Remember, you’ll always play the way you think so start to use GIGO to your advantage. Put “good stuff” in and you’ll soon start to get “good stuff” back out with increased confidence and improved play!

As a coach, being negative will not help you get your athletes and teams playing better. Negativity turns athletes off, kills their self-esteem and ties their muscles into knots, not to mention that it distracts them from the important task at hand. A high school baseball coach took his team all the way to the State Championship Game. In the top half of the first inning his team played like absolutely the worst ball he had ever seen. They committed 9 errors and let in 10 runs. While he was steaming in the dug-out watching this comedy of errors he felt a tremendous urge to ream them out when they came off the field. However, he realized that they were a little too tight, this being the State Championship game and all, so he bit his tongue and decided to do something unusual for him, be positive. When they came into the dug-out he said to them, “Look…the guys that were just out on that field booting those balls and making all those mistakes are the same guys that have gotten us here to this big game. We came here to play a full 9 innings and this is only one half an inning! So let’s go out there and have some fun!” His team’s reaction visibly got his attention. They seemed to relax right there on the spot, the tension draining from their faces. They then went out and hit their way right back into the game. When the last out was made they had won the game 13 to 12! Be positive. Nothing good ever comes from being negative.


“Your weaknesses into strengths”

A young judo practitioner had his eyes set on a life-time dream, to qualify for, and participate in the World University Games. For many years he pursued this dream until that tragic day just before his 17th birthday when his dream was cut short. He was involved in a tragic car accident in which his mother was killed and his right arm was severed from his body. The doctors who frantically worked on him throughout that night were able to save his life but unable to reattach his arm. It took him almost a year to recover from the physical and emotional trauma of that evening, although he knew he’d be carrying the scars of both for the rest of his life.

Bored one evening, he decided to return to his old dojo to watch his former judokas train. As he sat there watching he was overcome by a tremendous longing to return to training and to the pursuit of his dream. When he shared these desires to his sensei after class the teacher was polite, yet firm. Judo is not a sport that you do with one arm. It would be an impossibility and even dangerous for him to try.

Discouraged but not deterred, the young man sought out another local dojo and was told the same thing. At a third dojo the sensei was less kind and mocked him for even trying such a foolhardy thing. Who ever heard of a one armed judoka! Preposterous!!! The young man, however became even more determined in his quest to return to training which, after several more rejections landed him at a dojo approximately one hour from his home. The sensei there was an older man in his mid-sixties who listened patiently to the young man’s story. When the latter was finished, the sensei surprisingly agreed to take him on as a student with the following stipulations.

“You may train with us only if you understand my rules. First, you will not progress through the ranks the way others do. You will remain a white belt. Second, I will only teach you one, offensive technique and you must agree to only practice this technique in private with a partner that I will assign you. Furthermore, you must promise to me that you will practice this technique no less than 300 times a day. Finally, you can come to class and work on all the defensive maneuvers that you like, but you must never use this offensive technique there. Agreed?”

By this time the young man was desperate and probably would have sold his soul to practice again. He enthusiastically agreed and began training the very next day. As the week went on his attempts were quite futile. He could barely execute the technique the sensei taught him and in class he was being thrown around as if he were a rag doll. Despite his incompetence his spirits did not wane. He continued to train hard and two months later his execution of the technique almost resembled a judo move, although most awkward and poorly timed.

In class he continued to get beaten up and thrown around. Several more months passed and now his execution of this technique looked smoother and quicker, not unlike an actual judo move.

After training for almost a year his skill and strength had greatly improved and his move was now quick and powerful. One day, as he entered the dojo for class, his sensei came up to him, walked him to a bulletin board and pointed out a notice for an upcoming tournament. When the young man realized that his teacher meant for him to actually compete he became unnerved. He began to protest to his sensei. “Surely you understand that I can not possibly compete against two-armed opponents. I am just a white belt, There are black belts there. How can I possibly hold my own? You know I am handicapped.” His sensei looked him in the eyes and said, “Remember one thing my son, sometimes your greatest weakness can become your greatest strength!”

The young man was not comforted by the old man’s cryptic words and spent several anxiety-laden weeks worrying about the tournament. His anxiety reached a fever pitch when he walked out onto the mat to fight his first round opponent, a more advanced ranking student. But his nervousness disappeared immediately as he knocked his opponent out of the competition with three quick, surprising take-downs. The young man was stunned and confused by his success. His confusion stayed with him into the second, third and fourth rounds as he beat each of these opponents the same exact way, with three quick take-downs. In the finals, against a second degree black belt the results were the same. He won the competition with three quick take-downs. His sensei congratulated him after the match and said, “remember what I said son, sometimes your greatest weakness can become your greatest strength.” Again these cryptic words were of no use to the judoka in helping him make sense of what had happened. This same scenario happened seven times over the next year with the young man beating bigger, stronger, more advanced opponents in the very same way, with three quick take-downs. After each tournament that he won his sensei would again remind him that “sometimes your greatest weakness can become your greatest strength.” Then the letter came! He had qualified and was invited to compete in the World University Games, his dream finally come true! On the plane ride over his sensei reminded him once more to keep in the back of his mind all that he’d been taught, especially that sometimes your greatest weakness can become your greatest strength. The young man still remained puzzled by the older man’s words. Many things went through his mind during opening ceremonies…the accident, his mother, the great hardship that he had suffered, all of it came back to him now. In his first round match he was paired against a third degree black belt and beat this opponent like all the rest with three quick take-downs. The same results happened in the second, third and quarter-final rounds as he continued to beat better and better opponents. In the semi-finals his opponent, a fifth degree black belt fared no better, beaten with three quick take downs. In the finals he faced another fifth degree black belt and beat him the very same way to win the entire competition. On the plane ride back his sensei asked him if he now understood the old man’s words, that sometimes your biggest weakness can become your biggest strength? The young judoka admitted that he was still confused. The old man then turned to him with a sly fox kind of grin and said, “that offensive move that I taught you…it only has one known defensive counter….It calls for your opponent to reach out and grab your right arm, the one that you no longer have!”

If you have a performance difficulty or you’re consistently underachieving, call me today. I can help!

Contact Me or Call


Start typing and press Enter to search