Be the Reason Your Athletes Stick with It: Coaching Strategies to Increase Motivation and Passion

“They just aren’t trying hard enough!” “I don’t want to be here today.” “How do I get them to care?!” “Why should I care if they don’t?” “If we have too much fun then they goof off and we get nothing done.”

Danielle DeLisio from Infinity Mental Performance here! As a former athlete, coach, and now mental performance consultant, one of the most common and toughest challenges to tackle is motivation. I’m sure we have all said or heard the quotes italicized above. Youth athletes are dropping out of sport at rapid rates. The number one reason being that it just isn’t fun anymore!

When I was a collegiate athlete, I remember some days where I absolutely dreaded going to practices. I dreaded them so much that my grades began to slip and I wasn’t sleeping at night. It just wasn’t fun anymore. I began to completely question if my perceptions were wrong and that I in fact, never actually loved the sport I was playing. Once I reached my lowest point questioning if I would even play my next season, a few magical things happened. First, a shift in my perspective. I had fallen into a hole of negativity and decided to slowly begin to dig myself out. Second, continued support from my family and friends. They let me know that no matter my decision, they loved and supported me. Third, a new coaching staff that brought something special. This coaching staff brought a passion and fire that I had never seen before. Their strong desire to be at practice each day was so infectious that it made me want to be there too! All of these things in combination, helped me bounce back from dreading practice to having the best season I’ve ever had. Those two coaches are my reason for sticking with it and turning my experience around. 

Here are a few practical strategies that I learned from my former coaches that you can implement on yourself and with your athletes to create an environment filled with fun, motivation, and passion:

1. Get Better Every Day

Setting two or three specific goals for each training session directs attention and increases motivation. If there is a specific goal for each drill that you explain and specify, then athletes can direct their attention appropriately and work toward achieving that. Our tendency as athletes and coaches is to create too many goals. If you have too many different directions to focus your attention, you overwhelm attentional capacity and do not achieve a single one of those goals. (*an added bonus in motivation: when appropriate, have your athletes help in creating those goals!) Get intentionally (at least) 1% better every single day.

2. Give 100% of What You Have: it’s okay to not always be at 100%

We have all heard the expectation of giving 110% every day. I’d like to challenge that notion and make one minor adjustment that makes this daunting, high pressure benchmark more attainable and realistic. The reality is that you don’t wake up each day feeling 100% and neither do your athletes. That’s okay! That’s normal! I challenge you to expect 100% of what each person has to offer that day. For example, if you are at about 75% that day then it is fair to request 100% of that 75%. That way, athletes can see this as a realistic request of their efforts and will be more open to getting that extra push of encouragement to work hard. 

3. Bring the Burning Passion

Energy is infectious. When coaches come to training sessions fired up to get better, that rubs off on athlete attitudes and efforts. There are two great ways to do this. 1. Tap into your “why”. Why do you coach? Reflect on this “why” or purpose before each training session or game. 2. Gratitude. Tapping into 5 reasons you are thankful for having the opportunity to coach that day. These two strategies will provide that much needed spark to light that fire of passion.

4. Let’s have FUN

The number one reason youth athletes drop out of sport is because it isn’t fun anymore. In the world of sport, the word “fun” has often been misunderstood. We have “just for fun” teams and “competitive” teams. Sometimes we think of the word “fun” being synonymous with goofing off when in fact, fun only means enjoyment. You can have fun and be competitive! Challenge yourself to create a competitive training session full of fun and competitive drills. Then take the time with your athletes to talk about what fun actually means to them. Think of some ways together to determine what fun looks and feels like and how to find the balance of maximum fun and maximum skill development. 

***Please recognize that you can do everything in your own power to create and environment filled with passion and motivation, but sometimes the best thing for an athlete is to try something new!***

Thank you so much for reading,

Danielle DeLisio

Infinity Mental Performance

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