Maintaining Players’ Motivation

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:

  1. Instill an inspiring purpose.
  2. Provide recognition.
  3. Be an expediter for your employees.
  4. Coach your employees for improvement.
  5. Communicate fully.
  6. Face up to poor performance.
  7. Promote teamwork.
  8. Listen and involve.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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