Wednesday, December 12, 2012


                There are many variables that have an effect on an athlete’s motivation.  Many of those can be influenced by a coach.  This influence should be applied with the intention of improving the athlete’s sports skills and life skills.  In no particular order, here are several factors that influence our athlete’s motivation and some thoughts on how coaches can make the sports experience more rewarding by understanding the effect they have on an athlete’s emotional state.
                SUCCESS – I know I said “in no particular order”, but this one has to be at the top.  In the big picture, there is no greater motivator than success.  But, we must also understand the opposite of this statement.  There is no greater frustrater than failure.  Multiple successes will lead to progressive motivation.  Multiple failures will lead to progressive frustration.  It is critical that coaches help their athletes define success in a broad way (continual improvement) and in ways specific to a task (goals).  Success should be based on accomplishing things that are largely under the control of the athlete and should involve a comparison to past performance and current goals.  This makes goal setting critical to repetitive success and continued motivation.
                COMPETENCE – Coaches must understand the differences between actual competence and perceived competence.  Actual competence is an athlete’s real ability to succeed.  Perceived competence is the athlete’s belief in their ability to succeed.  In the world of motivation, perceived competence has the greater effect on an athlete.  The ideal situation would be for these to be the same.  We’ve all evaluated athletes as lacking confidence or being over-confident.  These terms refer to the difference, positively or negatively, between actual competence and perceived competence.  We all want confident athletes.  I will argue that we should try to keep our athletes’ perception of their abilities close to reality but that the most confident athletes are those who perceive their abilities as being slightly better than their actual ability (perceived competence is higher than actual competence).
                FEEDBACK – Many times athletes, particularly young athletes, look at the reaction of others to help them interpret results of their performance.  In sports, feedback comes from many directions (coaches, teammates, parents, officials, spectators and the performance itself).  As athletes mature a larger percentage of their feedback will come from self-evaluation.  But with children it’s critical that coaches provide positive feedback that guides the young athlete’s evaluation of their performance.  They will be looking for it and the coach is the best place to find it.  99.9% of performances have some good in them.  Find it and comment on it first, then make corrections.  Tie the corrections to the good points in an effort to help create a complete picture for the athlete.  In that rare occasion when nothing goes right I suggest laughing it off with an “oops” or “let’s pretend you didn’t take that turn.” 
                GOAL SETTING – Setting good goals is a skill that improves with practice and education.  Either formally or informally coaches should be teaching the goal setting process to their athletes.  Good goals lead to repetitive success.  Repetitive success increases motivation.  Goals should be progressive, creating many small steps to help an athlete reach a larger goal.  Each step is an opportunity to experience success and celebrate.  Goals that are too hard or too easy are not motivating.  If you have an athlete that consistently chooses very easy or extremely hard goals, you have an athlete with a confidence (perceived competence) and/or motivation problem.  As coaches, it is our job to help this athlete get back on a goal-track that is nearer to reality so they can experience meaningful success.
                These are four key factors that affect an athlete’s motivation.  As you can see, a coach can and should influence these factors in large ways.  A master-motivator will monitor each athlete’s emotional state, consider these factors and many others and take steps to increase the athlete’s motivation and to teach life skills that will lead to continual motivation.
                I can’t finish this post without a warning.  A coach who uses motivation as a tool to produce results simply to inflate his ego (or bank account) is a great manipulator not a great motivator.  If our own motivation isn’t anchored in doing what’s best for our athletes we should choose to do something other than coach.

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