By Dirk Smith, MSc, SDL (He/Him).
When it comes down to the nitty gritty of coaching, whether it be in sport, business or elsewhere, there is always one consistent thing it comes down to: motivation. How do we motivate our athletes? How can we, as coaches, get the best performance out of our athletes that will ultimately help us be successful as a team?
In my own experiences as an athlete, employee, and coach, I’ve experienced a lot of things that work and a lot of things that don’t work when it comes to motivating individuals and a whole team. I’ve met a lot of great coaches, and a lot of not-so great coaches, all of whom have different styles of motivating their players and to varying levels of success. It is important to recognize though that all coaches and all athletes have individual styles, different needs and unique ways that may work the best for them even if they don’t necessarily work well for others. So, the following content should be taken as more of a generalized tool that can be adapted to work with the needs of the individuals. It is up to each of us coaches to better learn and understand our athletes and the way they respond to different coaching cues, so it is important to be flexible and adaptable.
Deci and Ryan’s model of motivation known as “Self Determination Theory” I have presented previously in my articles covering the Psychological Effects of Homophobia/Transphobia in Sports and it’s important to draw this link because they are both rooted in the same basic philosophy. The model of Self Determination Theory describes motivation that “concerns energy, direction, persistence and equifinality that cover all aspects of activation and intention” in regard to human behavior. That is, “people are moved to act by different types of factors with highly varied experiences and consequences” (Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. 2000).
Breaking it down, there are three basic classifications of motivation: amotivation, extrinsic and intrinsic.
As coaches, it would be great if we all had athletes who were intrinsically motivated because such motivation has been linked to higher levels of mental toughness, confidence, and performance. However, it is simply not realistic to expect anybody to be driven by pure intrinsic desire and it must also be supplemented by other kinds of motivation to be sustainable. Both identified and Internal regulation are considered more “intrinsic” because of the internalization of the task, but Self Determination Theory also posits the six levels of motivation; amotivation, extrinsic, and intrinsic motivation to exist on a spectrum that is constantly moving within the microcycle, macrocycle and mesocycle of the sport as well as other physical, mental, and social factors affecting both the individual and the team.
Thus, motivation is something that needs constant nurturing from the influential people in an athlete’s life who are invested in the athlete’s performance. The more internalized the motivation is (Integrated, Internal, or Intrinsic), the more consistent and higher the performance will be. So, how do we as coaches support this? By implementing coaching behaviors built around the fulfillment of the psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
A consistent theme among successful athletes and coaches comes down to how well they feel supported by their teammates, coaches and colleagues in the sport that is ultimately driven by the fulfillment of these psychological needs. Athletes who feel like they are accepted, heard, supported, and validated are motivated by more intrinsic factors (integrated, internal, or intrinsic). So how can we, as coaches, support the fulfillment of these psychological needs in our athletes? It all comes down to local level behaviors. Here’s a few ideas,
As mentioned above, this is generalized advice given that any given team will have a large diversity of playing styles, personalities and backgrounds of the athletes and coaches. So, it’s up to each of us as coaches to get to know our team and apply these strategies within the context most appropriate for the context in which we find ourselves. This is the kind of coaching we must practice every day when working with others to ensure that success in performance is long term.
Mahoney, J. W., Gucciardi, D. F., Ntoumanis, N., & Mallet, C. J. (2014). Mental Toughness in Sport: Motivational Antecedents and Associations with Performance and Psychological Health. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 36(3), 281–292. https://doi.org/10.1123/jsep.2013-0260
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68–78. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.68
Coach Dirk, CSCS, is a sport psychology expert, performance coach, teacher, writer, journalist, and athlete. He brings over 10 years of experience as a coach, athlete, personal trainer, fitness instructor, and sports psychologist to drive athletes to build their own self efficacy and express themselves through sport. Learn more about Dirk here!