26 November, 2015

How to motivate athletes to achieve

How to motivate athletes to achieve

[Photo credit: opensource.com]

Have you ever had an athlete with an enormous amount of potential? They have the skills that you would love for every athlete on your team to have, but he or she lacks the motivation to remain engaged in your program. This can be frustrating for coaches, especially if it occurs not only with your most skillful players, but across a team.

So now might also be a good time to review your coaching philosophy and ask yourself, what motivates you to coach? What the basic principle that motivates you to coach, might be a similar principle to why your athletes play the game.

Before we go much further, lets define motivation: Simply put, it is the ‘direction and intensity of ones effort’.

Direction – The area of opportunity, activity or situation you are placing your effort into.

Intensity – How much time or effort are you willing to put into it.

For example, as a young athlete, my direction was focused on squash. The intensity that I put into it varied over the years. But in my junior high school years I was putting a lot of effort (or intensity) into my training and learning of the game. As I got older, other opportunities arose, and my intensity in squash diminished – this reduction in intensity was directly related to the fact that I never achieved any National level representation!

So like my drop off in squash in my late teenage years, this is commonly seen in our teenagers today. We see a drop off in the early teenage years and then another drop off in the early 20’s in sport participation. The direction of our athletes’ efforts changes and as a result the intensity that they apply to sport decreases. We as coaches need to understand and cater towards the needs of our athletes in this time of life change to ensure ongoing participation.

Athletes have two main needs out of sport:

  • To have fun; and
  • To feel worthy through a sense of competence and accomplishment.

These needs can be filled either intrinsically or extrinsically.

  • Intrinsic motivation is that which self fuels the athlete to continue. It is internal to the athlete and helps to sustain the passion and creativity required to perform. This type of motivation is what is required to maintain the level of intensity we as coaches want to achieve the results we desire with our athletes. A great example at the moment is Jarred Hayne from Australia, leaving Rugby League to try and achieve success in the NFL – because he had a personal dream and desire to play in the NFL. It was his goal and he was internally motivated.
  • Extrinsic motivation includes rewards such as trophies, prizemoney, recognition, or grades. This is not as powerful as intrinsic motivation and may become less valued over time, particularly once the reward is achieved. If the rewards are no longer on offer or if performance decreases and trophies and prizemoney are no longer given, then the motivation sometimes reduces.

We will usually be motivated long term to achieve something that is intrinsically valuable to us and it fills our needs of having fun and achieving a sense of worth. So the saying that sport is more than just about winning is true.

There has been plenty of research showing the top reasons for participation in sport are fun, health, socialising and personal challenge. Competition and winning – whilst being a factor are both ranked lower.

The majority of the population are not going to become elite athletes – where the motivation towards winning and success in competition is strongest. So we have to look for other areas to motivate participation, fill the needs of our athletes and keep them engaged in our program. Aiming for a sense of achievement will result in wins in a range of areas, as well as on the competition stage.

As a coach, I believe that looking after the wellbeing of my athletes is a priority. This includes considering their primary reasons for participating. Competition and winning is of secondary importance.

So do you coach for the wins and the competition? Or do you coach because you enjoy the challenge and for the personal satisfaction of seeing your athletes develop as individuals, on and off the field or court?

I know that my athletes enjoy it more when I challenge their learning in a holistic manner and can see gains across their life. As a result they become more successful on the court – winning becomes a simple by-product of the success seen in these other areas.

As the great coach John Wooden said - Don’t aim to be better than anyone else, aim to be the best person you can.

© 2019 Paul Mead