How can coaches influence players and motivate athletes?


This is perhaps one of the most common questions coaches strive to answer.

I will explore this topic in 5 easy steps. But first…..

What is motivation? A quick Google search might tell you that this is “the reason you have to act or behave in a particular way”. Other terms that come to mind may be inspiration, ambition, Where determination.

I did a quick survey of athletes in my own community, asking them how they were influenced or motivated by coaches and mentors. Here are some responses I received:

I had an assistant coach in high school who was the pastor of my church and the father of another player, but someone I didn’t know very well. He made a big difference to me in my very first year of freshman training in high school. We were sprinting all over the field, just down and back, nothing else like that. It was my first time doing sprints all over the court, and I was really struggling to get there and felt like I needed my inhaler. Next thing I know is he’s running next to me, holding my inhaler. He finished my sprints with me, no words said, no pity, no nothing. He just knew I needed support and he provided it to me.

In one of our one-on-one meetings, my coach told me that she admires the fact that I never give up, even though it took me a lot longer than everyone else. I always finish. Now when I feel like I can’t finish I remember how many times I have finished before when it was difficult. Basically when coaches see things and intentionally report them, they influence you to stay positive, or even just keep going.

One of my coaches in college was bribing us with these sugar cookies with icing, which I think works great on young athletes.

I think the pre-game speech carries a lot of weight for me as I get older. If my coach is excited before the game, then I feel like the hype is trickling down to me and my teammates.

What phrases come to mind when trying to motivate an individual or a team in the moment?

Here are some of mine:

Dig deep! You are strong!
I believe you can do it!
I want you to aim “here” or move “here” the next time you’re in the field.
What else can you give to the team?
Leave everything on the ground!

These phrases we throw at our team on match day are simple, quick and instant motivational reminders. Motivation is something that is built over time. We can find motivation from someone or something else, but ultimately it is your own body and mind that finds the will to move forward.

It is rare that we are instantly motivated to do something. There is usually a predetermined factor that prompts us to act. A coach or mentor can say something or set an example that resonates with you, which sparks that motivation.

This brings us back to the question posed.

How can coaches motivate athletes?

I find the easiest response to this is to remind athletes of their Why. What do they want and Why do they want to achieve it?

If coaches can help athletes meet their Why, and better understand their reason for coming to practice every day, then we can discover their innate motivation. I believe that coaches are a way of putting the pieces of the puzzle together to show athletes their goal, which creates motivation. To lean on Eleanor Roosevelt who said that, ‘no one can make you feel inferior without your consent, ‘I apply this to the motivation in this,’nobody can motivate you without your consent. ‘

Here’s a quick recap of Psych 101. You may be familiar with the motivation theories of psychologists like BF Skinner and Abraham Maslow (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). In short, Skinner delineates behavior and consequences by focusing on positive reinforcement, positive punishment, negative reinforcement, and negative punishment (read more HERE) better known as extrinsic motivation. While Maslow is known for his theory of intrinsic motivation (more on this HERE).

Imagine a time when you were struggling to overcome an obstacle. It may have been physically difficult, mentally difficult, or overwhelming both mentally and physically. Why did you lack motivation? Was it the fear of failure? Unpreparedness? Perhaps a lack of confidence? Lack of reward? Lack of basic needs?

What helped you get motivated? Was it an extrinsic reward like money? Was there a need for personal fulfillment (personal fulfillment)? Or were you motivated by a basic need like food or water?

When you realize that you may have a preference or a need for motivation, it’s important to realize that every athlete has a different need as well. Here is my process for motivating athletes:

5 steps for coaches to motivate athletes:

Step 1: Identify What the athlete wants

Step 2: Identify Why the athlete wants what he wants

Step 3: Develop an action plan to achieve their desires (or goals)

Step 4: Use tools and resources such as speakers, books, stories, quotes, reflections and / or visualizations to remind them, restore them and encourage them to pursue their intention.

Step 5: On match day, remind athletes of their Why

I love serving as a coach because I find it very rewarding to see the potential of athletes and to see them realize their potential as they grow up. This is how I approach the motivation of my athletes. I develop their skills and I am motivated by what they can accomplish. I study my athletes and build relationships with them. I help them identify what they want to accomplish. I openly share with my athletes the potential I see in them.

Motivation is built over time. Theodore Roosevelt said, “They don’t care what you know, until they know how much you care.” This concept can be seen as a building block to motivate athletes. They need to know that you believe in them, so they believe in themselves.

Building motivation over time can look like a lot of different things. I suggest that you, as a coach, ask your athletes what motivation means to them and how they prefer to be motivated. Some athletes want a coach who will push them, and they respond well to a more intense tone. Others prefer routine recordings to stay on track. Some athletes may prefer to hear stories and examples that they can relate to. Some are better motivated by their peers, while others prefer visualization. And in some cases an athlete may not know What is the most motivating for them. Everyone is different and it’s important for coaches to realize that you can’t treat all athletes the same.

The work you do as a coach to build motivation over time is what allows you to have a bigger impact in those discussions about when, on match day and pre-match. Once you have built the foundation, you have helped instill in them confidence as a motivator because they will feel prepared. And in those short bursts where you have to motivate the athletes in their pre-game, it just becomes the extra boost as we drop to the level of our training.

I am not here to tell you what is right or wrong. Based on my own experience, I correlate intrinsic motivation with athletes and those looking to be successful for something bigger than their selves.

Imagine that you are the athlete, and your coach shouts the sentences below at you during a match. Which one makes you feel more motivated, sentence 1 or sentence 2?

Sentence 1.) “You are doing very well! “
Sentence 2.) “The way you flipped your hips in transition to slow the ball down was exactly what we worked on!” Did you feel that? It looked great!

Sentence 1.) “Make smarter decisions! “
Sentence 2.) “During that interception you threw, you had a teammate wide open on the left side. Next time try to look for more options and I will tell your teammate to call harder for the ball when it opens. It sounds good ? “

Sentence 1.) “We must stop dropping the ball …”
Sentence 2.) “If you drop the ball again, try to remember to box it so you have more room to retrieve it!” Remember how we positioned our feet in practice to establish our space? “

Does sentence 2 add more value to the athlete’s understanding? Could this better motivate them to improve?

To develop the 5 steps mentioned above, here are some tips and reminders:

  • Identify and then continually remind athletes of their Why.
  • Build a relationship. Find out what motivational tactics an athlete finds useful.
  • Remember: They don’t care what you know until they know how much you care.
  • Prepare yourself every day. Use different resources and challenges so that on match day you can flip the switch and remind them of what they’re capable of because they’ve done it before.
  • Be grateful. Let go of the stress you feel and leave room for growth and opportunity.

I am not a motivational speaker and sometimes find it difficult to express the impact I hope to have on the team. Here are a few books that I recommend:

The indoor game of tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey
Extreme property by Jocko Willink
Can’t hurt me by David Goggins
TO PUSH by Jon Willis

Meet Lindsay Kibler:

Lindsay is currently the head coach of women’s lacrosse at Linfield University. She received her Master of Arts in Sports Coaching from the University of Denver in 2017.

Connect with Lindsay on Instagram @ CoachKibs_45


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