Do you know your players' WHY?
By Greg Bach
Super Bowl champion Antonio Pierce tackles his days exactly how volunteer coaches should approach working with their youth sports teams.
And that’s by inspiring, motivating and leading every day.
“You want to be a positive role model and encourage kids,” says Pierce, the linebackers coach at Arizona State University.
Growing up in Compton, Calif., there weren’t a lot of positive influences in Pierce’s life, which is why he’s spent so much of his providing support, encouragement and opportunities to children.
“In my lifetime more people told me I couldn’t do something than told me that I could,” says Pierce, who played nine seasons in the NFL and is a former United Way Man of the Year recipient for his tireless efforts to impact kids’ lives on and off the field. “Growing up in Compton there were no free camps or guys coming by to give positive words. I don’t want that to happen to kids today.”
FINDING THE ‘WHY’
During his days in New York Pierce was captain of the Giants’ defense, including in 2007 when they upset previously unbeaten New England in Super Bowl XLII.
He was tireless and relentless, never taking plays off or dwelling on missed tackles.
It’s that mindset that he works to instill in college players now, and which volunteer coaches should be teaching their young athletes, too.
“You have to stay focused on the big picture,” he says. “You’re not always going to dominate. For me it’s chopping wood – each play you are giving it your all. You want to do the best you can to help your team win and you have to be mentally tough to deal with adversity.”
Prior to joining the Arizona State staff Pierce coached four seasons of high school football at Long Beach (Calif.) Poly, where figuring out ways to motivate a diverse group of personalities and skill levels was a big challenge.
And one that coaches of all sports and all levels face every season.
“You have to try to pinpoint each player’s motive,” he says. “What is their why? What is their purpose? Why do they play football? And then you find different ways to reach them. What I do is I talk about a lot of the lessons that I went through and try to give them the best examples I can that reflect their situation.”
A MESSAGE THAT MATTERS
When Pierce reflects on his youth sports days he enjoyed playing for those coaches who brought consistency to the field.
“I liked the ones who – win, lose or draw – they came with the same approach,” he says. “That worked well for me growing up.”
Pierce’s message to volunteer coaches today is simple, yet powerful. After all, amid all the excitement that accompanies a season it’s easy to lose sight that these are children.
And a coach’s responsibilities to ensure they have a rewarding experience are enormous.
“Remember that feeling when you were a kid or a teenager and what that was like,” Pierce says. “Let them enjoy being a kid.”
Olympic gold medalist Misty Hyman on empowering and inspiring young athletes
Monique Henderson, Olympic track great and college coach, on chasing improvement one fun-filled step at a time
Ole Miss sports psychologist Dr. Josie Nicholson on helping your young athletes deliver positive messages to themselves to perform at their best
Reinforcing effort, coupled with a heavy dose of encouraging words, can help young athletes enjoy productive and rewarding seasons