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Levels of Motivation and Fire With Brimstone

By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer AssociationTim_for_Web-small

Over the last 30 plus years of coaching youth players in the US and sharing stories with other coaches of coaching issues they deal with, it has become obvious to me that the level of drive I see in most players is not what I remember having as a youth player or feel it should be. I frequently get asked as a coach educator on “tell me the best ways to motivate players and get them too truly compete?”

As a coach who tries to be both holistic and player centric, I have attempted to use the human approach based on good friend/ teammate behavior and sound core values to motivate my players. The creed I attempt to use is based on the following key principles:

1. I work hard and try my best for you do I deserve the same in return.
2. We all value good friends and good friends work hard and take care of each other.
3. One of the most basic rules of being on a team is that we can rely on each other never to give in or give less than 100%.

In addition to the thoughts above I have used player activities such as having all players write down five key characteristics of your dream teammate. Typically, whenever we do the share out after the individual thinking I get the same characteristics every time:

1. Hard working
2. Honest
3. Trustworthy and reliable
4. Able to listen and communicate
5. Caring

You would hope as did I that these sorts of discussions and team activities leads to my teams being high motivated and driven always. If only it were so!

So unhappy with the status quo and decidedly dejected about my inability to get each player to give 100% every time they walk onto the field, I have started to research this area of motivation and drive. So far I have read articles form Cote, Ryan and Deci, Ericsson, Visek and Tuckman. I admit I'm learning a great deal and quite enjoying the process as every time I read another article I get another idea on how to approach some issue in coaching. I am also honest enough to admit I have yet to uncover a gem that I can share as the answer. That being said and against the best advice of a mentor, I will happily state what is not the answer and what must stop.

I am tired of seeing coaches burst into the “Hollywood” image of a great motivator – face turned red with anger and eyes flashing bolts of lightning as they use fear and a very loud voice to bully the kids into maximum effort. Please be acutely aware that any short term positive you may perceive (if you scream at me I will run quicker for a second) in the long run you ae doing immeasurable damage. Fire and brimstone that induces fear is not the way to secure long term and consistent effort.

What is equally obvious is that overzealous parental behavior where the players performance is examined in critical detail on the car ride home also serves to nullify the intrinsic competitive drive. I would add as a conclusion to this introductory model my belief that a saturated sports diet with youth players playing in three or four competitive sports at the same time is also counter productive and leads to the end of intrinsic motivation. How many intense speeches could you deal with in any given week demanding that you give more, the mind just can’t take it and the body also reaches a point where it simply cannot give maximum effort?

I look forward to continuing and sharing my research and thoughts,