Like many of you, I’ve coached at all different levels. I’ve worked with top collegiate athletes to speed up their release and I’ve taught 2nd grade flag footballers how to wipe their nose on their sleeve. Despite the different situations, I’ve faced a common challenge. “How the hell do I get __________(insert any name) to do __________(insert any challenging activity)?” Want to make it even harder? How about make that challenge a puke-inducing series of lifts that inevitably ends with them ‘failing’ in front of their friends.
At times it is tempting to just reply “Because I told you so!” to the incessant “Why?” There are certainly times when a little external motivation, whether it be the carrot or stick, is necessary. But as coaches we have many responsibilities, at home and work. We don’t have the time to always be babysitting a weight room just to ensure everyone is showing up. We need to focus more on the intrinsic motivation. That is, create a self-sustaining fire inside our players. It may take more work up front, but the benefits will be seen for a lifetime. Now, as many of you know, motivation is one of the most studied subjects in psychology, so to know and attempt to apply it all would be debilitating. You know knowledge is important, but useless unless you act on it. That is why I’ve simplified my approach to fit almost every situation that I’ll encounter. Feel free to find the model that fits best for you. The important thing is that you do use a framework and have a planned approach. As Gary Barta, the AD from The University of Iowa, wisely once told me. “Hope is a crappy strategy”.
I get my philosophy from best-selling author and researcher, Daniel Pink, who used over 50 years of behavior research to find the three essential elements to create a drive within a person.
- Autonomy. People have the natural desire to direct their own lives. Now, 14 – 18 year old males are heavy on the natural desires and lighter on the direction (for the most part), but that’s where you, as their coach, are invaluable. Explain to them the basic science of training (and don’t forget the nutrition). Once they have an understanding, ask them how they want to develop. Bigger? Faster? Stronger? They likely will have the exact same end goals as you do, but it makes a world of difference when it comes from their lips. The end goal has to be their idea. You simply then have to show them how your training program gets them there.
- Mastery. Make them see how they are getting better. This can be tough in the weight room if they are constantly comparing themselves to the ripped or naturally athletic kid on your team. Get them to focus on their incremental gains. Measuring progress is one of the best ways to manage change. Plus, I’ve had success by encouraging the most advanced (swol) kid in the room to publically give notice to others’ players’ gains.
- Purpose. Eventually your players will burn out without this last component. Sit down with them and ask them about their values and big life goals. I’ve been increasingly impressed with a sense of purpose in our youth, but not all have thought about it yet. You’ll likely wade through a deep pool of “I don’t know”, but you will find a nugget along the way. Align this goal/value with the benefits of training with the team in the weight room. Take ‘Grit’ for example. The ability to persevere is important to success and can also be developed in the weight room.
Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose. AMP, as I like to remember it. I’d love to hear your comments on what challenges you have as a coach, or what motivation techniques work well for you. The ability to positively influence and motivate others is one of the most powerful skills anyone can have. If you have coaches who are also interested in making monumental changes, please share!
– Coach Campbell