A great coach isn’t just a leader, like a general or an admiral. A great coach is a psychologist. No matter what age the players are, a great coach has the ability to ‘get in their heads’, understand their motivations, and help inspire each player to find the greatness within themselves.
Every athlete has a life outside of the sport. (Even if we sometimes hate to admit it!) Every one of them is under their own pressures, dealing with their own problems, and playing the game for their own reasons. If a coach can understand where the players are coming from, it’s far easier to guide them.
And in my experience, the starting point here is realizing that a coach cannot motivate the players. A coach has to inspire them.
Motivation Comes From Within
All motivation is fundamentally intrinsic. That is, it comes from inside each and every person. And no one can ever create motivation which isn’t there to begin with. Carrot-or-stick tactics can sometimes alter a player’s behavior somewhat, but even then, the way they respond to your various attempts at motivation still depends on their own existing motivation levels.
That’s why I say that a good coach inspires. Inspiration can come from the outside. Inspiration can be converted into motivation, but that’s an internal process. It all depends on the player’s mindset. A coach can deliver the inspiration, but not the motivation.
Understand that mindset, and you’re much closer to creating the inspiration you want to see.
Understanding Your Players
I think it’s fair to say that one of the worst mistakes a coach can make is seeing their players solely in terms of the role they play on the team. They’re each individual people, and the better a coach understands each player as a person, the better they’ll be able to inspire them.
Get to know your team. Really listen if they come to you with problems, even if they’re problems outside of the game. Find out what other activities they’re participating in, especially those which might cause extra stress or conflict with their sports career. Whenever possible, try to help them resolve those conflicts.
And more than anything else, try to understand why they’re playing. Is it for the love of the game? Are they seeking individual success? Pushing themselves to find their own limits? Maybe even hoping to continue their career in bigger leagues to come?
In my experience the biggest motivators in sports are success, performance, and achievement. Find out which motivation is behind each player, and push that angle.
Keeping Inspiration High In The Face of Adversity
“But cooaaach… he dropped the ball!” Few things can be more toxic for a team environment than finger pointing, especially since every player is going to make mistakes from time to time. It can quickly sap motivation, especially if mistakes become a major focus.
And in any team sport, there’s always something that can go wrong. No one can predict a last-minute 50-yard run or half-court three-pointer. Even the best-prepared team can suffer from mishaps, or just plain bad luck.
You can help keep inspiration up by focusing on the positive as much as possible. Even with a poorly-played game, when reviewing the tape, you’ll see moments where players did well. Where there were mistakes made, be constructive in your criticism. Focus on how those mistakes could be avoided in the future, and implement new training methods to minimize them.
Basically, try not to be completely outcome-focused. Be focused on the process of training and proactively trying to do as much as you can before the game to help ensure success.
It’s also important to remember that a season is long, especially from the perspective of a young player. No one can give 110% every day for months on end. Remember to give them some down time, so they have a chance to recharge. Otherwise, exhaustion can easily sap their motivation, and that can be especially killer when nearing the end of the season.
It’s A Funny Old Game
Yeah, a coach has to wear a lot of hats. Mentor, counselor, admiral, psychologist, team gear supplier… it’s all part of the fun of organizing and running a team. The better you understand your players, and understand their own motivations for playing, the better you can inspire them to true greatness.
Even after more than twenty years of coaching various games and leagues, I keep discovering new techniques in the art of coaching. If you keep looking for new angles and new ways to inspire your players, your own game will improve as well!
Jeff Grow ~ A passionate sports guy, Jeff has spent many hours on the field helping to coach his three son’s sports (baseball, football and lacrosse) and even spent a season as the GM for a minor league baseball team. Now, he brings that passion and motivation to the SquadLocker Team.