Motivating Your Players

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Every athlete will have their own motivational drivers and so, as a coach, it’s important for you to acquire a good understanding of what these unique drivers are, so that ultimately you can help your players to motivate themselves.

Extrinsic v intrinsic drive

These drivers will come from a blend of extrinsic and intrinsic motivational factors. 

Players are intrinsically motivated when they have a high self-drive, and this tends to originate from possessing a deep love of the game. This self-drive enables them to practice for hours on end, without becoming bored, training for the sheer enjoyment of it. 

On the other hand, extrinsic motivation stems from the outside world in the form of incentives, such as money, awards, praise, trophies and so on. 

Extrinsic motivation is certainly useful for shaping part of a player’s drive, and does work on a short-term basis. Ideally though, you want to inspire your players into being more intrinsically driven, as this is much more important for long-term adherence to the process of improvement, which subsequently forms the foundation of achieving sustained success.

Focus on process not outcome 

One of the most effective methods for encouraging the intrinsic motivation of your players is to reward and praise the process, rather than the outcome. Examples of focusing on the process range from complimenting players when they demonstrate a high work rate in practice, to highlighting a situation when they show great mental toughness during a difficult match.

In contrast, rewarding players for an outcome pays little or no attention to their levels of effort or skill improvement. For example, by rewarding a win (i.e an outcome), you’re actually directing the focus of your players towards how they compare to others, only praising them if they win. By focusing on the outcome, player motivation decreases because it’s linked to the result…and every player and team loses from time to time.

Remember, sustained athletic success originates from continual improvement towards skill mastery, regardless of whether your players win or lose.

Look through a different lens 

Gaining an alternative perspective can help your players to remain motivated, so it’s vital that you regularly put things into context which allows them to clearly see the big picture.

When players can see the connection between what they’re doing in practice today to the upcoming game or season, their motivation levels will rise because they’ll grasp the purpose of the task or skill you’re asking them to complete or improve.

It’s also essential for your players to understand that, although sport is an important aspect of their life, there is much more life to enjoy outside of sport, and part of your role as a coach should be to help athletes recognise this.

By teaching your players to keep things in perspective during a long, difficult season, they will become better, more balanced athletes.

Keep practice engaging

Focused and fast-paced training activities, requiring high levels of mental and physical energy, can really help players to stay fully motivated towards improving themselves and the team.

Therefore, aim to keep practice sessions short, effective and efficient, concentrating on quality over quantity. A well designed session plan will comprise of a series of tasks, ideally each lasting between 10 and 20 minutes. Variety is also important, so develop a range of training methods that keep things fresh.

And taking inspiration from a famous quote of Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” model the behaviours you want your players to have – in this context, your own personal energy significantly influences the team, so always display a high level of motivation.

Tap into their inspiration sources 

Motivation is directly linked to inspiration, and when players and teams are inspired, they tap into a higher altitude of individual and collective ambitions which transcend simply winning matches.

For this reason, it’s essential that you guide your players towards finding their own inspiration, and then regularly plug them into this source. An example of how to do this would be to prominently display pictures or words that relate to their inspiration source.

When things get tough, accessing this source will help them to dig a little deeper when they need to most.

Help to prevent burnout 

Due to a number of reasons, which include an increase in the intensity of sport, children specialising at an earlier age, and athletes playing all-year round, burnout is becoming more commonplace, and it’s a major reason for decreased levels of motivation.

Therefore, be aware of this and devise methods to combat burnout in your players, such as freshening things up by encouraging your players to learn new positions, engaging the team in social activities that aren’t related to your sport, and making sure that they have a period of complete rest in the off-season.

Be aware and then share

Motivation levels naturally fluctuate throughout each and every season, and over the course of a player’s career, regardless of age or skill level.

Symptoms to look out for include negative changes in attitude, lack of punctuality, a decline in effort, and reduced levels of performance. If you do notice signs of demotivation, it’s important to share these observations with the player, addressing it from a position of concern, and finding out if you can assist him or her in any way.

Showing concern can sometimes be the only thing you need to do as a coach to boost the motivation of an athlete. A smidgeon of human care can often go a very long way.

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3 Thoughts

  1. This is an excellent post. I’m an intrinsic cyclist. My daughters are a mix in swimming, less intrinsic though. Here I’ve been celebrating the accomplishments rather than the process – the part that I find easy…. I need to fix that immediately. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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