Use Competitions to Drive Your Athletes

I was asked an excellent question last week – “How do you get lazy athletes to work hard during training?” What I usually rely on is his or her teammates to provide the motivation, and the best way I’ve found to do that is with competitions, especially during conditioning.  Here are a couple team-based competitions to put your athletes through if you’re noticing a drop in effort.

Timed Sprints

You aren’t timing their speed, but you give them a time limit. One good example is 30 yard (or 25, depending on the speed of your athletes) sprint they have 5 seconds to complete. After a short rest, 10-20 seconds, they sprint back, needing to beat the clock again. It’s really easy and efficient to have the rest be either 10 or 15 seconds, so you can have a stopwatch handy and have them start on the :15 or :20 mark. Keep doing this until only one or a few are remaining, declare them the winners, and have the losers do the real conditioning. Oh yeah, that part isn’t their actual conditioning, it’s the work they need to do to get them out of it. Make sure to schedule this with something all the athletes know and hate so they’ll put forth a good effort in the beginning. Whether you follow through with the planned conditioning after is up to you (and whether you’re pleased with the effort you see in your athletes).

A few variations:

  • Have a designated number of reps (let’s say 8) they need to complete in the given time to be done, otherwise they have to do the full amount (let’s say 12-15). Those who don’t finish the first 8 in time don’t sit out and run later, they keep running with their teammates, only with shorter rest periods. So in the above example, if an athlete is taking 7 seconds to complete the sprint, and need to go again on the :20 mark, they get 13 seconds of rest. Anyone who has done this before will know those extra two seconds mean a lifetime.
  • Split the team up into two groups, and for each round completed, the player gets a point for his/her team. So if there are two groups of five, they all make the first five rounds, the score is 25-25. It gets interesting when players start dropping off, whatever team has the highest score after the last man standing wins and is excused from conditioning. It can be really amazing to see one athlete left running by himself, trying to pull his teammates out of a deficit to help them avoid conditioning (essentially running it for them). It’s rare to see (because usually the team with the most left at the end finish off the other, and most athletes get tired and pissed at their teammates for quitting early), but it can be a great team experience.


These can be as simple as Prowler sled relays or more complex involving a handful of exercises with each athlete having his or her own responsibility to the team. If you’re looking to mix it up with a few exercises, and have them at your disposal, I’ve found these usually work pretty well.

  • Sled Drives
  • Hex Bar Deadlift
  • Goblet Squats
  • Push Ups
  • TRX Rows
  • Chin Ups
  • Box Jumps
  • Bear Crawl
  • Tire Flips
  • Farmers Walks

If your athletes are lacking motivation or effort, appeal to their inner competitor to get things back up to par. It may not work all the time, but having half your teammates yelling and screaming for you to go harder usually works better than any coaching tool.

Let me know if you have any other combinations or useful tips you use with your athletes. If there’s ever anything I can do to help out you or your program, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

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