For Coaches
Five keys to athletic self-motivation

Five keys to athletic self-motivation


The following is a chapter excerpt from the new book: Total Athlete Development: 70 Competition Tested Ways to get Mentally Tougher, Physically More Dominant, and Be the Best Leader for Your Team. Excerpt by permission of Championship Performance Publishers.

The quality of any performance is influenced by three factors: ability, motivation, and the difficulty of the task. Of these factors, only one, motivation, is entirely within the control of the player.

This task is not easy because of the length and intensity of the competitive season and the mental, emotional, and physical stress the athletes are under during this period.

What is Motivation? Simply put, motivation is the ability to initiate and persist at a task. This desire to participate in an activity comes from the belief that it provides some type of intrinsic (e.g., satisfaction, joy) or extrinsic (e.g., validation from others, wealth) rewards. At a practical level, it is these rewards that enable players to keep working hard in the face of boredom, fatigue, physical pain, and the desire to do other things.

Though intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can both be effective in the short term with players, research has shown that intrinsic motivation provides the longest lasting effect on participation and achievement. Players have control over their intrinsic rewards and can utilize them at any time. Thus, with all players, self-motivation is ideal.

Highly self-motivated players are willing to do everything they can to become the best that they can be and are not dependent on others for rewards. This drive must be directed into physical conditioning, technical training, mental preparation, and general lifestyle including diet, sleep, school, family and social relationships. A simple progression helps illustrate the importance of motivation to performance: High Motivation + Total Preparation = Maximum Performance!

Recommendation: Here are five ways to increase self-motivation in athletes:

1) Have regular training partners. No matter how hard players train alone, they will work that much harder if they have someone pushing them. A useful way to increase motivation is have players work in pairs. This is especially effective if the players are of similar ability, and have similar goals and training programs. On any given day of training, at least one of them will be motivated to work hard. They will also be more dedicated if they know someone else is counting on them.

2) Identify Greatest Competitor. Another effective motivator is to ask your players who is their greatest competitor or athlete they most admire. Have them place the name or a picture of that competitor where they can see it regularly. Also, you can periodically ask them whether they are working as hard as their favorite competitor.

3) Motivational Keys. The more players can be reminded to stay motivated, the more it will sink in. A useful way to constantly remind them is to identify some motivating keywords, e.g., hustle, go for it, or phrases like "if you're going to be a bear, be a grizzly” that help get the athlete motivated.

4) Ask Daily Questions. There are two questions that you can ask your players at the beginning and end of every day. Before training, ask your team, "What can you do today to become the best player you can be?" After training, ask them, "Did you do everything possible today to become the best player you can be?"

5) Training Diary. It is reinforcing for players to see improvement in different areas of their training and performances. An effective way for them to clearly see their progress is by keeping a training diary. Maintaining a detailed training log enables players to record important aspects of tournament preparation such as physical, technical, and mental training. It also enables them to track their match performances. Plotting improvement provides clear and tangible evidence to players providing reinforcement to their efforts which increases their motivation. Training diaries are also useful means of identifying the causes of overtraining, illness, injuries, and performance slumps and streaks.

Jim Taylor, Ph.D

Coaching Motivation

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