The way we motivate our players is as important to what we do as our technical and strategic knowledge of football. There are many motivational concepts, philosophies and even gimmicks. True motivation is built around trust, respect, caring and honesty.
As a young teacher, I remember getting an evaluation form from a principal who asked what my techniques and strategies were for motivating my students. My reply was simple. “I talk to them.” I come across many gimmicky techniques that are intended to motivate players. There are some good ones and some things that certainly can help your team focus. But the foundation of motivation is built around developing a strong relationship with your players. That fiery pregame speech only works because your players trust you, believe in you and care about you. You can say just about anything and fire them up if you have built that foundation. That process can only start with honest conversations.
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It’s easy to forget the relationship part of this game during the season. But a conscious effort must be made to continue developing those relationships and keep communication open. Here are some coaching points that can help keep your team motivated during the season:
1. Always make eye contact when giving directions and speaking with a player. This is a sign of honesty.
2. Do not yell unnecessarily. You need to be the example of poise and composure. How do you react when things aren’t going right? Your players will reflect this attitude and behavior.
3. Be careful about the use of humor. It’s been said that there is truth in comedy, and too much humor and sarcasm can hurt a relationship.
4. Personality is very important. You can only be who you are. The best way to deliver a message to your players is to be yourself.
5. Be honest. Don’t tell players something that cannot be achievable. Presenting the facts is always better than skirting around issues. If you present things the right way, players will appreciate your honesty. Present the challenges as facts. Be sure to present the plan to overcome any obstacles you may have in the upcoming game.
6. Talk to your players and let them know you care about them as people. When leaving the practice field, be sure to touch base with each of your players. Say something positive, especially if you were tough on them in practice. Talk about things unrelated to football and find out what else is happening in their lives. Do not go in and sit in the coaches’ office until you have talked to each of your position players.
7. Use warm-up and stretching periods to touch base and set the focus for your players. This is a period that must be coached as well. Do not be goofing around with other coaches or throwing the ball around.
8. Use positive praise and communication. Sandwich your critical comments with positives. A player will be more open to change when you offer praise as well as pointing out where he or she may do better. As an example, “I really liked the way you fired off the ball. You will have a better chance to win the block if you keep a wider base.” Specifics and positives always help a player improve. Emphasize the positive and they will be more open to making a change. If a player does not perform as desired on a play, explain not what they did wrong, but what they should have done to perform perfectly. This will keep a player highly motivated.
9. Be patient. Your players’ success is your responsibility. If they “do not get it” or are continually performing it wrong, evaluate your methods first. Maybe there is a better way to get it done. Get feedback from your players. They may not understand something you are assuming they know.
10. Be flexible. All players are not motivated by the same thing. Get to know what motivates each of your players. Understand their needs and desires. The best motivation comes from within. Figure out a way to get your players internally motivated. Constant punishment or correction means that they do not have it yet, and you need to refocus your methods.
11. Every player should understand that they are important to the success of the team. Any player can still set and achieve goals even if their playing time is limited. A good coach will find their second teamers some playing time during each game. It’s even better if that player gets time in a meaningful situation. This allows them to see the results of their work. It also prepares them to step up if needed. Work during the week to build confidence in the technical and mental aspect of the game for your players.
12. Alternatively, take away playing time and use the bench as a motivator for those players not performing. All players must exert a personal effort in order to see the field. Therefore, a player who does not practice or misses some practice should have their playing time cut. If a player makes a glaring mistake on the field (mental or lack of effort), put in a different player and let him play. This serves to motivate the player on the field and the one on the sideline. A player on the sideline will lose his motivation to work hard if the player on the field has no consequence for poor performance or laziness.
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I’m sure you have heard these coaching points before. It doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves of these and reflect on where we can be better in developing our players and the relationship we have with them. In the end, it’s about getting better every day so we can be the best for our team.