One goal (duty) of a coach should be to increase the team’s motivation. In Sven-Goran Eriksson On Soccer, the authors suggest that motivation is a function of self-confidence – when a player loses confidence, his motivation wanes. Read the rest of this entry »
The self-determination theory states that autonomy, competence, and relatedness maintain or enhance intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Interestingly, the theory is based on the idea that in many cases, we start with intrinsic motivation, and we need to find ways to maintain or not retard that motivation. Rather than trying to motivate someone, we need to avoid de-motivating him or her. This is especially true with youth sports, which are inherently enjoyable activities. Read the rest of this entry »
David Sirota, Louis A. Mischkind, and Michael Irwin Meltzer wrote an article titled “Why your Employees are losing Motivation” for Harvard Business School. They open with a powerful statement:
Most companies have it all wrong. They don’t have to motivate their employees. They have to stop demotivating them.
Coaches make the same mistake. Many coaches worry about motivating their players. However, in most cases, players choose to play basketball. It is not homework or Algebra. Basketball is an inherently fun activity. Unfortunately, many coaches intentionally eliminate the fun from basketball in an attempt to meet some higher goal.
Sirota, et al. suggest that workers bring three goals to work and players’ goals differ very little:
- Equity: To be respected and to be treated fairly in areas such as pay, benefits, and job security.
- Achievement: To be proud of one’s job, accomplishments, and employer.
- Camaraderie: To have good, productive relationships with fellow employees.
When players lose motivation, often one of these three things is the issue. Often, when a player receives less playing time, he may lose motivation. Coaches think the player is sulking because he does not play and believe that the player should think about the team first.
However, the issue often is not the playing time. Instead, some players feel that they did not have a fair chance to earn playing time, which affects their motivation. I coached two de-motivated players several years ago. I spoke to them at the beginning of the year and explained that I was a new coach and they had a new opportunity. I set the expectations for them to meet in order to earn playing time and stayed true to my promise when they met the expectations. The de-motivated players became the hardest workers on the team because they felt like they controlled their own destiny, rather than feeling like they were in a hopeless situation where it never mattered what they did.
Some players lose motivation because they equate a lack of playing time with a lack of accomplishment. With a player in this situation, create small goals for the player and give them an important role on the team. To keep younger players interested on the bench, I have had players watch for certain things. At a timeout, they tell the starters that one player is left-handed or during the action, they call out screens from the sideline. They contribute to the success of the team even though they do not play as much.
Finally, some players feel like they are less a part of the team if they do not play. In these situations, the coach needs to include the player and point out their contributions to the team, even if those contributions consist solely of working hard in practice to prepare the starters for the game.
Sirota, et al. provide eight ideas to use to maintain your players’ motivation:
- Instill an inspiring purpose.
- Provide recognition.
- Be an expediter for your employees.
- Coach your employees for improvement.
- Communicate fully.
- Face up to poor performance.
- Promote teamwork.
- Listen and involve.
By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Originally published in Los Angeles Sports & Fitness, March/April 2009.
This week, I looked at the roster for a Division I women’s program to check on a player that I had watched in high school. She was no longer on the roster. I emailed a high school coach and asked about the girl, and he said that she had “lost the love” and quit.
Last fall, the media made a big deal about Elena Delle Donne dropping out of the University of Connecticut where she was supposed to join the roster of former McDonald’s All-Americans and National Player of the Years to compete for an NCAA National Championship.
Delle Donne has been a star for nearly half of her life: in a Slam article published during her sophomore year of high school titled “Is Elena Delle Donne ready to take women’s basketball to the next level? The better question might be whether the women’s game is ready for her,” her coach, Veronica Algeo said, “Bottom line, she’s as close to a celebrity as this state has. She’s the face of Delaware in the sports world…and she probably will be for two decades to come.”
When she quit basketball, and school, to enroll at the University of Delaware, it was national news. With an ESPN Outside the Lines feature, it is arguably the biggest news story of the year in women’s college basketball.
Her story is so big because people do not understand why a girl with so much talent could quit playing basketball (she plays volleyball at Delaware). However, her decision is not that unusual; unfortunately, I know several players who quit before or during college, forfeiting college scholarships in the process. Delle Donne is noteworthy because of her fame; however, many players make the same choice every year because they burnout.
The January issue of Men’s Health explains that internal motivation is an anecdote to burnout.
“A 2008 study found that athletes are less likely to experience burnout if their motivation stems from competition with themselves, as opposed to competition with others” (Carolyn Kylstra).
Intuitively, this makes sense. As a literature major at UCLA, I almost never completed a book. I did not enjoy reading; I was reading to pass a test or to learn enough to answer a question in class. I was not reading for myself, for my own learning or for my enjoyment.
When I graduated, I consumed books. In the spring after my college graduation, I worked about three hours per day and spent the rest of the time reading. My bedroom had a mattress on the floor and stacks of books. I loved reading. It was the same activity, and the books were of similar subjects, but I read at my pace on my terms, not to please a professor or finish an assignment.
Unfortunately, we worry so much about our kids’ self-esteem that we start the external rewards at an early age. Every child gets a trophy at the end of the season because we feel that kids need rewards to stay motivated. Rather than develop a love for playing the game, we substitute external rewards.
In the January issue of Inc, columnist Joel Spoelsky writes:
“According to psychologists, extrinsic motivation has a way of replacing internal motivation. The very act of rewarding workers for a job well done tends to make them think they are doing it solely for the reward; if the reward stops, the good work stops…They will forget their innate, intrinsic desire to do good work.”
These days, it seems the sole reason for youth sports is to earn a college scholarship. Players specialize early and dedicate their time and energy to one pursuit. Parents pay for personal trainers, and players jump from team to team and high school to high school to find the right coach or more playing time or enough exposure to college scouts.
The external reward of a college scholarship replaces the original intrinsic motivation that helped the player achieve a certain measure of success in the first place.
However, what happens when the player accomplishes her goal and signs her college scholarship? For some (many?), that is the end-goal. It seems players dream more about the scholarship than playing college basketball. But, a college scholarship is a beginning, not an end.
The player’s approach often determines her enjoyment at the college level. After spending three to four years pursuing an external reward, how does the player recapture the intrinsic motivation?
Without internal motivation, playing college basketball resembles a job, much like reading literature for a class rather than for enjoyment. Basketball is no longer a game to be played, but a chore to finish before moving on to something that they want to do.
Few people on the outside understand this, however, because people equate playing basketball with their personal recreational activities, not with their job. Most people do their job because of external rewards – typically their paycheck, but possibly a raise, promotion, etc. By adulthood, we are conditioned to chase external rewards, which is why people want a bigger house or a more expensive car. We forget to embrace our intrinsic motivation.
However, those who pursue recreational activities consistently follow their internal motivation. Nobody forces you to get out of bed at 6:00AM to run a 10k or to spend your Saturday morning on a 50-mile bike ride. You choose these activities because you find enjoyment.
A player on a college scholarship does not play basketball in the same way that the gym rats in the campus recreation center play basketball. The gym rats play when they want. They start when they want and finish when they want. They play for fun.
A scholarship athlete, however, is told where to be and when to be there. The coach scripts the practice and the player follows directions. The coach concentrates on winning, as he needs to keep his job so his kids can eat.
If the player is unable to shift her motivation to find something that she enjoys in the playing, she is likely to burn out and quit (unless she cannot afford to quit; then she might keep playing even though she is unhappy, just so she can complete her degree).
Similarly, every January, people make resolutions to lose weight. They force themselves to do things that they think they dislike or that they associate with negative experiences. These people fail to keep their resolutions.
Those who manage to follow-through for more than a couple weeks do so because they find internal motivation. They choose an activity that they enjoy or they make it a social activity with friends. They do it because they want to do it, and they enjoy the exercise or the experience, not because they feel compelled to do it.
It is unfortunate that we have created a youth sports system so engulfed by an external reward. It hurts the scholarship athletes who lose their motivation once they sign the scholarship and achieve their reward, but it is even worse for the less competitive athletes stuck in an overly competitive system even though they just want to play and have fun.
Sports like skateboarding are on the rise because many kids are driven away from more structured sports at early ages because the external motivations lead to burnout. They choose less competitive, more collaborative sports because they create an intrinsic motivation.
Nobody forces a kid to skateboard or surf; he chooses to skateboard or surf because it is fun and he likes the feeling or the challenge or the learning. Team sports used to provide the same type of experience; sadly, in the increasingly competitive arena of youth sports, situations like Delle Donne’s are growing more frequent because the sports move away from the things which draw kids to sports originally.
By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development Leagues
Dr. Craig Stewart, a professor at the University of Montana, sent an article titled “Motivational Traits of Elite Young Soccer Players.” In the paper, older players scored higher than younger players in their motivation to avoid failure. The article states:
It has been determined that players who seek to avoid failure will avoid achievement-oriented behavior, participate in situations only if assured of success, develop various coping or ‘face-saving’ behavior to pre-explain their failure, exhibit lower effort in practice or game situations, and only increase effort if the team is successful (wins) (Cratty 1983).
Obviously, this does not lead to enhanced performance. The author suggests that the older players may have developed this negative type of motivation due to the coaching:
The avoidance of failure may be the result of the significant number of situations in which the athlete has been exposed to coaches who exhibit command-style techniques. Command-style coaches not only make the majority of decisions in an athletic situation, but also create an environment in which failure is more threatening to the athlete than success is rewarding. The longer players remain in that situation, the more they are apt to exhibit many of these counterproductive characteristics (Stewart and Meyers).
In Developing Game Intelligence, Horst Wein writes:
This rigid and authoritarian coaching style does not develop intelligent players with awareness and responsibility. To get more intelligent players on the pitch in the future, coaches need to stimulate more and instruct less.
To develop better players who make better decisions and to enhance motivation, coaches need to move away from the command coaching style.
Players will never reach an elite level if their motivation to succeed is stifled. Players who play with fear will never reach their maximum performance.
The only way to develop is to make mistakes. Without mistakes, there is no growth or development; the player simply does what he can already do. Nobody develops without bumps in the road.
Coaches should understand that youth athletes:
- are best motivated when they believe personal success is self-determined by their skills and performance;
- prolong their performance when internally motivated;
- Do NOT trivialize the importance of fun…regardless of age.
By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
In The Power of Mindful Learning, Ellen J. Langer tells the story of her friend:
A writer friend of mine was trying to concentrate on writing when some school-age children started up a hilarious, noisy game below his window. He asked them to leave. Since he was breaking up what clearly seemed a delightful scene, he paid them each a quarter for doing so. The next day they came back and caused the same annoyance; again, he paid them to leave. This routine continued for over a week, until one day my friend found he was out of quarters, and he suffered through the racket as best he could. He discovered that he could work despite the disturbance, and thence he gave no more quarters. The children stopped coming. Two weeks later he ran into one of them at the market and asked why he and his friends no longer came around. The child replied, “What do you think, we’re going to come for nothing?”
Unfortunately, the story describes the effects of organized youth sports for many players. Children play basketball for fun, shooting around with friends, playing pick-up games, and trying new moves. Because of their interest, their parents sign up for a youth league believing that the organization and structure will enhance their enjoyment of the activity.
The organization changes the activity just as the quarters changed the activity for the children. In organized leagues, winning and competition take precedence over playing and enjoyment. The motivation shifts from play for the sake of play to practice to prepare for a game.
When this shift occurs too early, the game loses its fun for some players. They depend on the external rewards – winning, playing time, an ice cream cone for making a basket – to maintain their motivation rather than playing because they love to play.
While some players quit when these external rewards disappear or fail to increase, others persist for various reasons. However, without the internal motivation, they will never maximize their talent or love the activity. As Daniel Pink says, players thrive in an environment of “autonomy, mastery and purpose.”
When the game becomes focused on results, rather than learning; and the coach takes control of the activity rather than empowering his players; and the practice loses meaning to the players, the effort, enjoyment and improvement diminish.
That does not mean that coaches should ignore discipline, drills or hard work. However, it does mean that coaches and parents should be mindful of their approach and their words (rewarding effort, not just performance), and coaches should strive for an environment of “autonomy, mastery and purpose.”
Article originally appeared in Los Angeles Sports & Fitness, November/December 2009.
In the summer of 2002, I worked the Stanford University women’s basketball camp. In 2002, the And1 Mix-Tapes were nearing the height of their popularity. At the camp, a couple girls saw me messing around and doing some ball-handling tricks during the first break. One girl – a 14-year-old from Anchorage, Alaska – asked if I could teach her how to do the slip-and-slide, a move from the Mix-Tapes. I said that I could, but she had to learn to dribble better first.
At lunch for the rest of the week, we sprinted to the cafeteria, hurried through a sandwich and spent the remainder of the break on the outdoor, asphalt court working on ball handling drills. While the other players sat in the air-conditioned dorms and the coaches went to Starbucks, she spent 45 minutes doing extra drills.
I made a deal with her: if she did the drills, I would teach her the slip-and-slide. The slip-and-slide is not a move that she would use in a game, but she wanted to impress the boys back home. When the other players and coaches walked up to the court for the start of the afternoon sessions, they saw her rolling on the ground while dribbling the ball, trying to master the slip-and-slide.
The coaches rolled their eyes. Nothing drew a coach’s ire from 2001-2003 quite like the And1 Mix-Tapes, as coaches believed that the tapes embodied everything wrong with the American player. Most coaches blamed the tapes for everything from unmotivated players (“they just want to do tricks”) to poor shooting (“they have no fundamentals”).
Some players could not believe this girl, as she finished lunch dirty and sweaty, with the asphalt all over her hands and legs, while they returned from their dorm with fresh make-up and a spotless white tee. However, a couple players asked if they could join. By week’s end, four or five girls were hurrying through lunch and skipping their break so they could practice their dribbling.
A Whole New Mind author Dan Pink argues in his TED (Technology, Education and Design) speech that “there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does” in terms of incentives, bonuses and motivation.
He provides several economic studies (based on the Candle Problem) and argues persuasively against the “carrot and the stick” approach to motivation. Instead, he shows that people perform better when intrinsically motivated and offers a new model for motivation based on “autonomy, mastery and purpose.”
Pink’s presentation focuses on business motivation, management and the creative class, as he advocates for a new world order based on right-brain thinking: the subtitle of A Whole New Mind is “Why right-brainers will rule the world.” However, his argument easily lends itself to coaching and youth sports.
At the Stanford camp, as with most camps, stations represent the bulk of the instruction and non-game time, and fall into two categories: boring/poorly taught or recreational with little relevance (the Stanford camp is notorious for the numerous cheers that players master as well as time-wasters like “Land-Sea-Air”).
For instance, I worked another camp where an instructor spent one hour lecturing, demonstrating and drilling the first step on a closeout (when a defender plays help defense and then runs to his man when he receives the pass). The players never worked against a live defender. Instead, they spent one hour running back and forth from Point A to Point B as if they always would start and end in the same spot and not have to react to an offensive player who could shoot, drive left or drive right. The coaches praised the session as “fundamental” and “great teaching,” while I and many of the 13 and 14-year-old players were bored.
Many coaches assume that players learn best through these repetitive drills which break the game into almost unrecognizable segments only to return to 5v5 scrimmages with minimal transfer from the drill to the games. When the skills fail to transfer, coaches blame the players for not listening, lack of concentration or lack of effort.
Rarely does a coach examine the teaching methods and question why the players fail to understand or transfer the skill from one setting to the next.
While there are several variables, Pink explains that people have the “urge to direct our own lives; desire to get better and better at something that matters; and yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”
The same mismatch that Pink sees between science and business happens in coaching too. We live in a world of external rewards. However, people learn best when intrinsically motivated: in an environment of autonomy, mastery and purpose. At the camp, the girl asked me to help her (autonomy); she wanted to learn something new (mastery); and she had a goal that was important to her (purpose).
Often in coaching, especially when we organize drills that are far from the actual game, we fail to motivate the player intrinsically, so coaches fall back to the “carrot-and-stick” approach: “work harder or you’ll run!” The purpose is no longer intrinsically motivating (avoiding punishment), and the coach focuses on outcomes, not the learning or improvement.
In the studies cited by Pink, external rewards improved performance on mechanical tasks. Therefore, in a drill like the closeout drill, the fear of running improved performance in terms of more hustle and less talking from the players.
However, on cognitive tasks, or tasks requiring creative thinking, higher external rewards hurt performance. The ball handling drills involved a creative element, and more importantly, their transfer to a game requires cognitive skills, as the player uses the dribble to create a pass or shot and must evaluate options while dribbling.
The reward system works for many coaches who stress order and structure; for instance, a basketball coach who runs a continuity offense and just wants the players to run the offense or a soccer coach who just wants his fullbacks to boot the ball down field as far as possible rather than playing the ball out of the back.
However, this reward system fails to motivate in situations where developing independent and critical thinking is important.
Most invasive games (soccer, lacrosse, basketball, field hockey, water polo, etc.) require critical thinking skills, flexibility and creativity. These games involve movement, perceptual and cognitive elements, while other sports like swimming or running involve primarily movement elements. Using the “carrot-and-stick” approach is not the best way to develop skills and players in these sports.
Instead, players need some control over their learning. This does not mean that coaches cede control to the players. However, asking players questions and empowering players to make decisions builds intrinsic motivation. For instance, at practice the other day, I asked the players what they thought of the drill and whether we should continue or move to something else.
I often ask players which drills they like and do not like, and I spend more time on those they enjoy. If they enjoy what they are doing, they will work harder and improve more than if they are forced to do drills they dislike. The challenge for a coach is to devise drills that the players enjoy which teach the skills and game concepts that he knows are important to their development and success.
Coaching is not a matter of giving into the players and their desires. However, the coach and players should work together; the players should not view the coach as an antagonistic force. When players and coaches communicate (in both directions), they work together for the same goals. When this communication breaks down or the coach ignores the players, players see the coach more as the person taking the inherent fun out of playing rather than a guide trying to improve one’s skills to enhance the enjoyment of the game.
At its core, we play sports to have fun, and a coach’s role is to enhance the enjoyment of the activity and to develop skills that allow the players to continue playing. When coaches focus on these roles, they ignore the “carrot-and-stick” approach and move to a more empowering approach which builds the players’ intrinsic motivation, often eliminating the need for discipline.
I did not have to motivate the young Alaskan. She chose to work out during her break and do extra drills because the goal had meaning to her; she felt that she was improving and learning something new; and she had some control over her environment.
By Brian McCormick
Coaching Director, Playmakers Basketball Development League