Keys for Coaches: Motivating Athletic Performance

January 13, 2016

A regular season schedule can feel grueling — at least one game per week, sometimes twice-daily practices, travel — and that’s all before you get to the post-season. Plus, kids have important obligations outside of basketball, like schoolwork, grades, family, and rest.

In a long and eventful season, players will get tired. They will get frustrated. They will be inclined to let the feelings associated with wins or losses eclipse their other achievements. Your job as a coach is to maintain motivation through the ups and downs of a packed practice and game schedule. Let’s face it: you get tired sometimes, too. These tips will help you keep your kids’ eyes on the ball all season long.

  1. Set challenging but achievable goals. Every player has areas where they can improve. Focus on a narrow area of improvement and determine goals you feel confident a player can achieve, but not so easy that they feel like cake walks. This applies the right amount of pressure but avoids being discouraging by feeling too difficult.
  1. Recognize (and celebrate) successes. Pay attention and offer praise when goals — however small — are reached. It’s disheartening to be excited about an accomplishment and feel that it’s been overlooked.
  1. Offer praise frequently, with specificity. The dangers of empty praise are well-documented — it can actually have a detrimental affect on confidence, and it undermines your trustworthiness — so it’s important to give positive feedback only when it’s warranted. But that doesn’t mean don’t ever offer praise. Use words of encouragement that specifically acknowledge success and avoid generalities (“great footwork during that passing drill” vs. just “awesome work”).
  1. Dedicate time to talk inspiration. Spend some time focusing on your pep talk Studies have shown that a positive pep talk could affect player performance.
  1. Find what makes your players tick. Not every player is driven to perform by the same motivators. Figuring out what pushes each kid is the key to unlocking his or her potential.
  1. Remember fun. Keeping the work in perspective is key to making sure that kids want to return to the court each day.
  1. Emphasize team work. Your players can and should help each other reach their goals.
  1. Take time to talk. Don’t just be a good listener. Be a great listener. That means making time to talk with each individual player and listen to what he or she has to say versus just talking to the group.
  1. Forget fear. You won’t win over hearts and minds by using fear tactics. Fear is not an effective motivator. Using fear to manage and coach just makes you a bully.
  1. Don’t dwell on failures, use them. No one likes to make mistakes, and kids can be susceptible to dwelling on the past. But the worst experiences make the best lessons, and encouraging your players to discover what can be learned from each experience and then move on is valuable for them… both on and off the court.

Most important is remembering that all of these tips apply to coaches, too. Staying motivated for your players is one of the best things you can do to foster a winning team.

Learn more about how to develop player skills by visiting our library of past posts.