Motivating Athletes

We’ve all had athletes that blew us away with their work ethic, and there are some famous cases of the best going above and beyond what is asked of them, striving for perfection. Jerry Rice was known for workouts hard enough to grind diamonds to dust, Tiger Woods ends every practice by making 100 consecutive 9’ putts (pretend you’re reading this in 2007), and Kobe Bryant…well if you don’t know about Kobe’s work ethic, you should be watching videos of him instead of reading this.
While these guys are great to have, unfortunately players with that level of dedication even more rare than players of their superior talent. So what do you do when you have an athlete brimming with potential, yet lacking in drive? While every athlete (and person, for that matter) requires a different method to be motivated, there are a few trends that seem to help almost all of the time. As coaches, it is our responsibility to get the best out of our athletes and motivate them to reach their potential. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned to help get the most out of your athletes:
1.     Be Involved – Athletes will work harder for a coach that shows an interest in them. I can’t tell you how many “coaches” I’ve seen that are just yelling clipboard-holders. Be a coach you would want to play for. This is easily the most important item on the list, achieve it and most everything else falls into place.
2.     Small Groups – Want to get a fire lit under in your players? Get them competing. Groups of 2-5 have always worked best for me, and be sure the best workers are mixed with the worst. Try not to have the hard workers overwhelmed with lazy ones, attitude is contagious, you want to spread the positive. As soon as the competitive juices get flowing, suddenly the effort goes up and the players take pride in what they do. Most importantly, they get better
3.     Let Them Dictate Their Work – It’s the end of conditioning. You’ve run them for 5 (of ten) 40 yd dashes and each time guys pull up before the finish. Then you say the magic words – “Run these two hard through and we’re done.” Wow, amazing how quickly they recovered. My solution – give them that option at the beginning. I’m not saying offer them reduced conditioning if they run them all hard, but that can work. Instead, let them decide the distance on their sprints – as far as they can go until they feel themselves slowing down. I call these “Effort Runs” and use them if I notice guys have been going at subpar effort for short sprints. By shifting the focus from distance to intensity, it changes the mindset of the athlete from trying to run this far, to running this HARD. These work well for sports focused on power (most of them) and would obviously need to be modified if the goal of the training session is something other than power, but it’s a useful tool to have.
4.     Make it Different – Baseball players love run wide receiver routes and catch passes. Football players want to get on the hardwood and play basketball. The list can go on and on, but the point is that even players who love their sport more than life enjoy variety. Granted, the metabolic demands may not sync up perfectly with their sport, but that’s a small price to pay to prevent mental fatigue and increase attentiveness.
5.     Curls (to Look Good) for the Girls – What’s the easiest way to get a team of male athletes to enjoy the weight room? Make their guns huge. While it may not be beneficial to the sport, athletes want to be able to flex in the mirror and see some vascularity and bulging muscles, even if it’s only for an hour. Toss in an old fashioned bodybuilder style superset at the end of the workout every so often and enjoy the positive energy that follows. Everything has a time and place, but be sure this doesn’t happen at the wrong one and impair performance during competition.
These are helpful tips, but it’s also important to recognize that sometimes, players are just worn down and need a break. Don’t be afraid to give an unscheduled day off if you notice an athlete who normally attacks workouts is dragging. See if it’s just grogginess and goes away with a good warm up, but if it doesn’t, send them home and get after it tomorrow. Gains happen during recovery and I’d rather give an athlete the day off than see him/her overtrain and have their performance suffer.
Let me know any tips you have for motivating your athletes or if you try any of these out. If I can ever be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
All the best,
Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW

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