A National Alliance for Youth Sports resource helping coaches, parents and administrators provide the best youth sports experiences for children.
Mastering motivation: Find what makes every child tick
By Greg Bach
Motivating young athletes takes time, patience and understanding.
And – most important of all – requires different approaches for different kids.
“It’s really important to understand how fragile young people are, especially young women,” says Marissa Young, head softball coach at Duke University and a former three-time All-American during her playing days. “You have to reach each kid based on the way that they tick. Sometimes as coaches we get the mindset that it’s a one-size-fits-all approach and that’s definitely not the case.”
Different personalities present different challenges. And require different approaches for connecting.
The more coaches can learn about their players the more successful they’ll be decoding what makes them tick, and the greater the chances they’ll be able to steer them on the path to productive seasons.
“I encourage coaches to really get to know their players and understand them and their personalities,” Young says, “so that they can reach them and motivate them based on their personality type.”
Young was a fierce competitor when she took the field; and she embraced and benefited from coaches who pushed and challenged her.
“My coaches had a tremendous impact on me and I’m thankful for how they really helped me grow and mature,” says Young, who was the 2003 Big Ten Player of the Year for her dominance as both a pitcher and hitter at the University of Michigan.
“COMPLIMENT BEFORE YOU CHALLENGE”
In order for coaches to have that same type of impact on their players today that Young remembers so well from her playing days requires really committing to connecting with everyone on the roster.
And a big part of those efforts must include confidence building.
“You have to continue to make the kids confident and believing in themselves,” says Young, a lethal pitcher who left Ann Arbor as the Wolverines’ all-time strikeout leader with 927. “I always say that you have to compliment before you challenge.”
Before coaches get those drills going it’s crucial to establish a practice environment where kids understand that making mistakes is OK – it’s all part of the journey to improving and developing.
“The kids have to know that they are in a safe environment where even if they make a mistake it’s OK, they know the coach is going to help them get better and isn’t passing judgment on them,” Young says. “Because right now their identity of learning who they are and who they want to become is really shaped by the adults that they come in contact with, so for us as coaches it’s very important that we build them up.”
Of course all players want to hit home runs, or be the one that delivers that game-winning hit in the clutch that generates applause from the stands and high-fives from their teammates.
But being part of a team means making sacrifices.
When coaches are able to deliver those messages they can be incredibly rewarding life lessons for kids.
“Softball is a team sport and as much as players love getting up there and hitting that home run, sometimes their job is to put the ball on the ground to the right side to move that runner along,” Young says. “I think when coaches are able to make their players think more about what they can do to make their team better instead of what they can do to make themselves look good – that’s when it becomes a fun environment.”
Sending kids home after practice with positive messages fuels confidence and passion for the sport. See how Tulsa football coach Philip Montgomery makes it happen with his team and adopt his approach to benefit your players, too
Troy Calhoun, the head football coach at the U.S. Air Force Academy, on helping young athletes learn, improve and savor competing
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