beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the
experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent
disinclination to do so." —Douglas Adams
At the recent 2002
National Strength & Science Seminar in Blaine, Minnesota, Nicole
Black-Lavoi, Ph.D. Student at the University of Minnesota, gave an
informative seminar of preparing the athletic mind for top performance.
She emphasized that the prevailing myth that the use of imagery is
NOT sports psychology. Rather, sport psychology should be
thought of as finding the most efficient means to motivate an athlete.
Intrinsic motivation, (the self-determination that an athlete uses
to push them self), claims Black, burns deep and lasts longer than any
form of "pep talk." Find out what that athlete desires from
athletics and fuel the fire. She addressed the following points that
coaches can use to develop intrinsic motivation from their athletes.
Tip #1: Define success as a process
not the outcome. Tom Osborne, the legendary Nebraska
football coach, addressed this basic element in his book, "Faith
in the Game." He was afraid that if players were to set their
goals on such things an an undefeated season or winning a national
championship that an early season stumble would ruin the next 3 months.
Osborne guided his team leaders to focus on setting goals that focused
on the process of a successful season not the outcome. These goals
would include measurable outcomes of a weekly game such as controlling
the time of possession or turnover ratio. In this manner, win or lose
an athlete can re-focus and "get-up" for the next game.
Tip #2: Make it FUN! In a
survey of college athletes asking what was the most effective
motivating tools their coaches used having fun was #1. Contrary to most
coaches, winning wasn’t even in the top 10. Find out what your
athletes think is fun and apply it to your program. In the weight room,
we may assume that getting stronger is fun. But in reality it’s
hard work for young Johnny. Some programs incorporate
"game-time" into their work-out sessions. Following the
work-out you take the kids into the gym, divide up and play dodge-ball.
Invest in a tug-o’-war rope, or have a water balloon fight. These
activities may seem trite to the coach but if it’s fun to be at
the work-out session Johnny might come back tomorrow.
Tip #3: Encourage self-comparison.
This is along the lines of developing that intrinsic motivation. Stress
to your athletes that "how much weight they lift is not as
important as lift more than last week. You will find that the
self-confidence this breeds in your mediocre to lower contributing
athletes will turn them into productive and important members of your
program. (I love to talk about these kids, because they are the ones
who are impacted by sports the most. I’ve seen it happen and
transform young men. It is with these kids that I have developed my
best relationships, not the star athletes.)
Tip #4: Engender feelings of
control. This may be a tall order for many coaches. However,
athletes want to feel important and that their opinion means something.
The old-school idea is "My way or the highway." The trend
however is leaning toward the only one hitting the highway is the
coach. Give kids a sense of ownership. This can be as simple as picking
out the team shirts or team goals.
Tip #5: Encourage athletes to set
goals. I personally was never a big Dallas Cowboys fan however,
Emmett Smith made a comment in a Sport Illustrated article that blew me
over when I read it. "A goal is just a dream until you write
it down.". An athlete needs to be bombarded with his own goals
on a daily basis. Hand out index cards and they’ll the athletes
to tape them to their bathroom mirror. This is another way to help
athletes develop that intrinsic motivation.
Tip #6: Give feedback, especially to
novices. Human beings must be affirmed for optimal success.
Athletes many times have an ego problem, either too large or too small
of an ego. A coach should find a way to give feedback in a positive
manner to all athletes but especially novice athletes who may need
affirmation or just need some guidance. This is where a coach,
regardless of technical knowledge can build lasting relationships with
Black gave several other examples of athlete motivation but these
were the ones that I felt were the most applicable to strength coaches.
She made a great point is saying, "You coaches have sat here all
day discussing ways to develop the body without paying a single moment
of attention to the development of the mind." I concur. Coaches,
this is an untapped element of many athletic programs, imagine a weight
room full of excited athletes who are intrinsically motivated to
getting stronger. Wow! That would be a fun place to work.
If you have questions
or comments about this web site or strength development or training
please write strongerathletes
Liability is assumed for any information written on the
StrongerAthletes.com website. No medical advice is given on exercise.
This advice should be obtained from a licensed health-care
practitioner. Before anyone begins any exercise program, always consult
your doctor. The articles are written by coaches that are giving advice
on a safe, productive, and efficient method of strength