Motivation is tricky. We all know it’s important for success and yet we probably all define it differently.
Do you know what a motivated player looks like? You might be surprised when you read 10 tips for keeping your players motivated.
So what does a motivated player look like? Are they loud or quiet, fired up or low key, always smiling or serious? If you’ve been coaching for awhile then you know that motivated players come in all shapes and sizes. One of the most fired up players I’ve ever been around was Dot Richardson, Gold-Medal winning shortstop on the 1996 and 2000 US Olympic teams. Now Dot was the definition of fired up! She talked loud, she played loud, and she hustled – you got it – loud! It was easy to see that Dot was motivated. But on that same 1996 Olympic team was another player, just as motivated and yet she showed it in a totally different way. Gillian Boxx is a very cerebral person who, when she wasn’t practicing or playing could be found reading a book. She didn’t yell, didn’t jump up and down, and in comparison, looked very un-Dot-like. She was every bit as motivated as Dot was, but she showed it in her own way based on her own personality. Motivation looks different on the outside.
Motivation is importance to performance. Motivation is part belief and part passion. Belief fuels enthusiasm, enthusiasm explodes into passion and passion carries you to your dreams! That’s a lot of high intensity that we can’t have for everything in our lives. There’s a huge difference between doing the things you have to do, and doing the things you want to do. Motivation provides the energy to get you through the things you “have to do” and helps you do them better.
In fact, we describe someone who we feel lacks motivation as simply “going through the motions”. That person’s body is moving but their spirit isn’t. So motivation is something that’s internal. You can’t see inside someone’s heart, and that’s why it’s risky to judge someone’s level of motivation by their behavior.
Take me for example. I once took a 10 week boot camp fitness program that met every Monday and Wednesday at 6 am for an hour. I was definitely motivated to lose weight and get in better shape and yet I hate mornings. You could say I was motivated since I paid to join the class, I was never late, I didn’t miss a session, and I did everything we were asked to do. And yet my body language would never have given you that impression. I rarely looked at the instructor (for fear it might cause him to single me out, plus I was also trying to breathe), I was never at the front of the line, I got told “COME ON CINDY” a lot, and I was REALLY glad when the hour was over! If it wasn’t me I would say all of that behavior describes someone who wasn’t very motivated. But it WAS me and I was motivated!
So the lesson is … it’s always risky to judge a person’s motivation entirely by their outward behavior. But if you still think your players aren’t motivated, then let’s look at a list of 10 Tips to help Keep Your Players Motivated:
- Be the Energized Force – Here’s the deal – YOU are there to help improve your players both individually and collectively, they aren’t there to meet your grand plan for success! How can you expect your players to be motivated when you walk around with a scowl on your face acting like you’re preparing a team to invade another country? It’s softball, its fun, it’s energetic so BE fun and BE energetic! Be the change you want to see! If you want players acting like they like being there then you start by acting like you like being there. Maybe you’ve got to create an environment they like and change practice so you like it too. Whatever it takes but YOU’VE got to be the energizing source as your players are really just mirrors of you (yikes)!
- Know They Are All Trying to Succeed – I really don’t think anyone on any level goes out to compete and make mistakes. That doesn’t make sense. Everyone goes out there to succeed; it just doesn’t always work out that way. When we believe that – really believe it – then we start to coach from a completely different perspective. If you believe in your heart that your players really are trying to succeed, then when you see them fail instead of getting mad at them you realize you need to support them and help them become successful again, quickly.
- Know Your Motivation Isn’t Theirs – You probably LOVE softball and maybe 2 other things in your life, but your players are kids (no matter how young or old they are) and kids love LOTS of things. They might really like softball or even think they love it, but they also love their friends, texting, lipstick, boys, their new phone, Lady Gaga (or music), another sport, etc… because you love softball doesn’t mean your players will all love it, and, it doesn’t mean they’ll love it like you do. We are all motivated by different things (I discuss this in detail down in #9) and as a result our outward display of this motivation will change as we go into and out of those things we really like – even during one practice or game.
- Be Demanding Without Demeaning – Coach Brenda Frese, University of Maryland Women’s Basketball Coach and National Champion, is a master at this type of coaching. In 4 years she turned a horrible University of Maryland Women’s basketball team into a national champion by being demanding without being demeaning. Instead of saying to a player “what’s the matter with you?” She would say “you’re better than that”. It’s still firm and yet challenging. It conveys a belief to the player that the coach knows she has talent and is capable of more without humiliating or demeaning the player. We don’t have to hold hands and sing Feelings but we do need to push with compassion.
- Stretch Them Without Breaking Them – This is along the same lines as #4 as we need to make things challenging but achievable. If I never win I never think I can win but if I always win without any effort I don’t know how to give effort to win. My boot camp instructor pushes me by telling me to “COME ON CINDY, ONE MORE” while he tells another person to “DO IT ONE HANDED”. He challenges each of us based on our abilities and yet pushes us only as far as we’re capable which, by the way is FAR greater than we think and much farther than we would push ourselves! (As I’m finding out each week!)
- Give Them Success Bars – Success is like candy bars or sugar, we all like it but know we can’t have much of it. So as a coach you need to let your players have a little success at each practice without either filling them up on it completely so they get sick (read – complacent) or depriving them of it totally so they get discouraged and fall off the wagon (read – give up). Constantly be on the lookout for ways to help your players succeed and then recognize it when it happens. Make a drill slightly easier for one player so they finally can do it and make it a “team time” on baserunning so the slower players still run hard but the faster ones are challenged as well. Be creative in finding success opportunities – but find them since just like candy or sugar, once we taste it we want more!
- Body Language Lies – Just because your players walk around looking like they don’t care doesn’t mean they don’t care. I have a face that when I’m not smiling looks like I’m mad. I guess it’s because the ends of my mouth angles down when I’m just neutral so lots of people think I’m mad (since my mouth looks like a frown) when really I’m nothing at all…I’m neutral. So be very careful that you don’t assume from your players body language that they don’t care, or aren’t motivated. Body language lies. Oh, and yours lies as well. You might not be mad but your head is down, your hands are on your hips and you aren’t smiling. Now you might be thinking about what to do next but players don’t know what you’re thinking they only know what they’re seeing and it looks mad. Body language lies, both yours and theirs.
- Make it About You, Not Them – YOU be the one that finds what motivates each of your players and then work to push that button. YOU be the one that lights the fire every day in practice by your enthusiasm for the sport, the day, the opportunity and the team. YOU be the one that works to help them succeed today. YOU be the one! The team isn’t always the one that has to do all the changing or compromising or improving, sometimes it’s us as the coach. Oh I know that players need to be pushed and encouraged and challenged but that’s just it. These are all positive words that imply a partnership between the player and the coach and not a dictatorship. Make each practice and each game about the players in as much as your job is to reach inside of each and every single player and help bring out the best in them today! Make that challenge be yours! YOU make the change instead of always expecting them to make it.
- Know Why They Play – Everyone is motivated by different things and we tend to work harder for the things we like which translate into motivation. I know that I’m motivated by the things I like and I’m sure you are too. Let’s take your softball team and look at some of the different reasons why your players are there (no matter what level your team is):
- They LOVE it
- Their friends play
- They’ve always played softball
- They don’t want to let their parents down
- They are good at it (doesn’t mean they like it)
- It’s all they’re really good at (doesn’t mean they like it)
- Dad or Mom coaches
- Their parents told them they needed an extracurricular activity
- It’s spring and everyone plays softball in the spring
- They want to play for their school (usually high school)
In looking at this list I’ll bet you immediately came up with names of players that fit into each of these categories. If you didn’t then take a minute and come up with your player list and following each reason list the names of the players on your team that you feel are playing for that particular reason. This exercise will really help you see in black and white that most of your players aren’t there because they LOVE it. In fact, I’m willing to bet this is your smallest group, which should drastically alter your view since you are basing your opinion of motivated players on your model of the player that LOVES it!
10. Notice It and Reward It – If you’re trying to change an attitude or a team then recognize when the behavior has changed and reward it. When players hustle in practice comment on it, when players come through in the clutch then recognize it. Whatever the behavior is that you want to see, whenever you see it then recognize it and reward it. The reward can be in the form of a helmet sticker, a name on a practice list or even a Practice Player of the Day T-Shirt to wear at the next practice. Do something that tells players this is the behavior I want to see more of and make it something that everyone wants to do! Be sure that you also make it something that every player is capable of achieving. Not all players can start so if you give game rewards make sure your bench players have the chance to be rewarded for their contribution. Things like giving something to pinch runners that score, bench players that notice runners that miss bases, anyone that picks the other pitchers change up are creative ways of allowing everyone the chance to contribute and be noticed for it.
It only takes our players improving one percent to make a HUGE difference in their performance. Sometimes players don’t see that, they think they’ve got to go from bad to good in one practice and since that’s a jump they don’t feel is possible it’s easier if they don’t even try. As coaches we must be confidence builders. We must help our players stretch their skills each day in practice and reach for that 1 percent, or degree, of improvement. If they achieve it every single day they’re 30% better at the end of a month – that’s HUGE!
What difference does a slight improvement make? How about these examples:
- 212 Degrees: Water is hot at 211 degrees but it boils at 212. Boiled water makes steam and steam can power a train or run an engine.
- 32 Degrees: Let’s go the other direction now. Water at 33 degrees is cold, real cold, but water at 32 degrees freezes. You can drive a semi truck over a lake on frozen water!
One degree might be small, but it makes a BIG difference.
For more help with all sorts of team issues from team building to team chemistry to motivation check out our book, Coach’s Guide to Creating Team Chemistry: Tips on Coaching Female Athletes.