Coaching Football: Motivation

Tom Olivadotti via Coaches Choice Football Coaching Library

The motivation of an athlete is probably the most discussed, disputed, and intangible topic in sports. Coaches could only wish that they had a “magic wand” that could motivate each of their athletes. Arguably, however, motivation must come from the “inside/out,” not the “outside/in.” In other words, a baseline or starting point within any player must exist.

The secret to effective motivation is to find out what the baseline of an individual might be and “spark” it to get an athlete’s “hot button” going. At that point, the inspirational signs in the locker room, the motivational speeches, etc. may have a positive effect. This type of motivation, however, does not happen overnight. It must be undertaken in the off-season via a number of targeted efforts, such as person-to-person interactions, motivational literature, etc.

How can a coach make one of his athletes feel good about himself? What motivates this individual? Is it ego? Is it pride? Is it friendship? Is it fear of failure? The job of a coach is to make every athlete play to the utmost of his ability and exert a maximal effort. In other words, as was discussed previously, one of the major roles of a coach is to “make a player better than he thinks he can be.” In the process, the coach expands what the athlete thinks his limits are.

In reality, all of the talk in the world is useless to a coach if the coach hasn’t figured out what motivates his players. All factors considered, the higher the level of competition, the more likely that “position competition” can motivate a player. Such competition must be legitimate, i.e., it must entail a real threat to a starter losing his job. All the talk in the world is no substitute for someone with the ability to replace a starter. Of course, relatively speaking, such a situation is a luxury for a coach. A coach must not use idol threats to motivate a player. I have always found that being honest with a player and making him aware that every snap he takes in practice and a game will be viewed and evaluated by a coach. Such feedback can make a player more aware of his performance and effort.

There really is no way for a coach to know if he has truly motivated a particular player. In fact, in the deepest regions of his soul, only he knows. All the coach can do is evaluate what he sees from that player. The pre-game talk and halftime talks are the end of the motivational process, not the beginning. The beginning of the process must occur earlier.

I have heard some of the greatest pre-game talks imaginable. As such, whatever motivation emanates from one of those speeches only lasts about three plays. After that, it is all on the players and what they have inside themselves and what they have been taught. They must believe in what they are doing, as well as the system, the technique, and the coach. Furthermore, they must have respect for the coach and the information and direction that he provides them. They don’t have to like him, but they must respect him, which is why being a good teacher is critical.

With regard to respect for a coach, one of the most important factors, an aspect that is occasionally overlooked, is how well he treats his back-up players. Does he treat them with the same respect that he does any starter? I have seen coaches who are not respectful to their back-up players. As such, they behave more aggressively toward them than they do to their starters.

More often than not, players will lose respect for that coach “down the road.” Coaches need to be consistent in how they treat all of their players, within the confines of the personality of each coach. While someone can coach athletes differently, based on what motivates each individual player, abusive, insulting behavior is never warranted—regardless of the coach’s personality.

Sometimes, a coach can evaluate a player’s level of motivation simply by the effort he shows on the tape. In reality, it is the only really legitimate way to tell. Even that measure can be difficult to evaluate, on occasion. Only the athlete knows if he is truly putting forth a maximum effort. Arguably, only two factors matter—the results the player achieves and does the athlete’s efforts meet the expectations of his coach.

It is important to keep in mind, as was noted previously, that an essential aspect of motivating a player is derived from the respect that the athlete has for his coach. Such respect, to a degree, is affected by a number of issues. For example, how much can he learn from the coach that he couldn’t learn on his own, and fast can he learn it? Once a coach earns the respect of his athletes, then the motivational process begins. The
higher the level of coaching, the more this factor applies. As a rule, experiences players can’t be fooled. Screaming at players with no teaching involved is not productive. In that scenario, a coach is just yelling to hide his personal inadequacies as a teacher.


You can find out more about and purchase the eBook that this article is from at: Coaching Football: Principles and Practices

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