Motivational Traits of Elite Performers

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:

  1. are best motivated when they believe personal success is self-determined by their skills and performance;
  2. prolong their performance when internally motivated;
  3. Do NOT trivialize the importance of fun…regardless of age.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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