A Coach's Perspective: Building Motivation through Connecting with Athletes

A Coach's Perspective: Building Motivation through Connecting with Athletes

I’ve always loved athletics—the sport, the game, and the challenge. I found that being physically tougher and mentally stronger than my opponent drove me. I wanted to teach that by being a coach. I had to figure out how I could transfer my motivation to a team. I didn’t worry about intrinsic motivation or extrinsic motivation. But, I knew I cared about the athletes and wanted to teach them how to succeed in the game.

The Greatest Coaches Care About More Than Just The Game

In today’s world teachers, coaches and parents all want to know what motivates people. You can read articles, take psychology classes, even go to clinics. The answer you’ll find will come down to experiences and caring. Great coaches like Al McGuire, Tom Izzo, Coach K all have the same technique in common—they care about their players on and off the playing court.

As a coach, I believe you have to find a compromise between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, but most importantly, you have to care. I started my coaching career while I was an undergrad in the 1970s. I coached on and off until I officially retired. Early in my career, I was demanding, it was my way or the highway. But, athletics changed and I changed with them. I learned to listen more and watch each player more.

Success is Meeting Goals—The Team’s Goals

I always wanted success and that wasn’t always about the winning—it was more meeting goals. Don’t get me wrong, winning is good. I found that some players had a hunger for winning and that was it. I found that attitude a little disappointing. However, putting your personal goals above the team’s just doesn’t sit well with me. You need good players and you need them to be good teammates. The players that set their individual goals above the team’s goals are the athletes that can destroy cohesiveness and that makes motivating a group very difficult. 

As a coach, I had to get creative to keep the team focused and motivated on the team goals can be challenging. I found pointing out the littlest successes of each player helped. In basketball, I’d focus on the player that made a good pass, or the player that took a charge, or the athlete that got a rebound that changed the momentum of the game, and the players on the bench that practiced and cheered. Everyone getting some recognition helps a team become one unit. In today’s world that would be called intrinsic motivation.

I Will Work Hard and Expect Each Player to Work Hard

My favorite year coaching was the season we were 3-17. That group of players worked harder than any group I ever had. They were a team that celebrated each and every success. That made practice fun, games enjoyable, and success really special. They made me work harder. I wanted to show them that I would never give up on them. And teach them that they couldn’t give up on themselves. One thing that didn’t change were my ideals. I believed, and still believe, that I will work hard and expect each player to work hard. My favorite sayings were taken from other people I worked with. I would tell the players, “Some teams will be faster than we are, some will be better players than we are, but no one will be in better shape than we are”. I lived and died with that philosophy. We may not have always won, but when the game was tight we had mental sharpness simply because we were not tired. We made fewer physical or mental mistakes and had more confidence because of it. 

Did I have to motivate our athletes? Sometimes. We would have team challenges, and individual challenges. The rewards were extrinsic. Sometimes food worked, sometimes letting them control how they practiced worked. I have had past players tell me that they just wanted to do their best because I was always giving my best. Trust me, I am not tooting my own horn—hard work just worked for my coaching style.

We’re All in This Glass Together

One analogy that I really liked to use with teams that I coached was “the water glass”.  Our team is the water glass. I would tell the athletes to put their finger in the glass of water. That represents you as part of the team. When you take your finger out of the water the hole It is filled with more water. With that I’d preach that no one is more important than anyone else. That we couldn’t fill their spot. Was that motivation to them? I don’t know. I would like to think it was. They all knew we were in that glass together and needed to work together. 

As the years grew on I paid more attention to the athlete that wanted to be better than they were. You can see when an athlete is pressuring themselves too much. It could be in their personality or it could be from home. Either way I felt sorry for the player. What a horrible situation to be put in. I would try to give that player responsibilities (intrinsic motivator) that didn’t place more pressure on them, but gave them more success. If we were having problems as a team we would just “blow off” practice and play a fun game. Sometimes it was related to the sport and sometimes it was a team building activity. Either way it helped motivate us.

I guess you’d say I used a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic motivational techniques. I loved coaching. I loved my players and much like Tom Izzo, coach K, and Al Mcquire I cared about each athlete. For the coaches still actively coaching—I hope you can continue the legacy of caring about each individual athlete and teaching them to truly be their best at every game, in every practice, and in all that they do.

-Chris Moore 

About the Author

After playing collegiate basketball, Chris Moore spent a career teaching and coaching various sports before her retirement. She had a tremendous impact on many of those who played for her through the years (including one of our co-founders!). We are honored and grateful that she shared her perspective with us.  Thanks to Chris and all the other great teachers and coaches out there that spend countless hours helping their athletes realize their full potential, both on and off the field!