How to Positively Motivate Your Athlete | Q&A with Coach Diana

Today’s Topic: How to Positively Motivate Your Athlete


About Me

Hi everyone, this is Coach Diana with Complete Performance Coaching.  I am one of the five coaches, and today I want to talk to you about something that has come up in my practice; it’s is all about motivation and really looking at the best ways to motivate.

I’m going to talk a little bit to coaches and parents specifically.  I have asked my athletes a lot about what their internal dialogue is.  Is it positive or is it negative? What are some of the things they say to themselves because that makes a huge impact on where their focus is and what they do.  Asking one of my parents about their child in return, they told me how they motivate their child at home.  It was really more negative motivation.

Motivating an Athlete

There are ways to motivate athletes negatively or positively.  We’ve all seen coaches use negative motivation somewhere along the way.  There are some coaches that do pretty much all negative motivation and then some coaches that are much more positive with their motivations.

When a coach uses negative motivation, they’re motivating through fear and intimidation.  To be honest, there are some athletes that thrive on that, but most actually do not.  It is true that a few athletes will respond very well to negative motivation, but honestly it’s not very many.  I want to address it for parents who may be doing things and saying things to their child that they don’t realize is detrimental.

Reverse Psychology

If you make comments to your child like, “You’re not as good as so and so on your team,” or “You’ll never be as good as so and so,” or “Watch so and so, look how she does it.  Why can’t you do it like that?”  Those are comments that are negative.  I know some parents think it’s reverse psychology.  They’re trying to get them to be motivated, to show them that they’ll do better than that.

Coaches do the same thing.  They’ll say sometimes, “I don’t think he can do it.”  In fact, I remember one of my coaches doing that very thing.  I think another thing that’s important to remember is that how athletes respond to one coach could be very different than how they respond to another coach.

Breaking Down Your Athlete

You can’t necessarily use the same strategies across the board for athletes.  I want you to know, coaches and parents, that when you say comments like that, you may actually be breaking your child down, one comment at a time.  That’s what we want to avoid, even though your intention might be really good to try to get them motivated.

Keep in mind that very few athletes really do thrive in that environment. When you think about it as coaches, I think your job as a coach is really to find what motivates each one of your athletes. Again, what works for one coach may not be the same thing that works for another coach. You really have to feel out your athletes.

Personal Experience

When I was a gymnast in high school, one of my coaches would occasionally use negative motivation.  He would say, “You know what, Diana, I don’t think you can do this.”  In my mind I immediately went to, “You don’t think I can do this?  Watch me.” That worked for me.

One of my other coaches watched that and saw that it worked, so then he tried to do it. For whatever reason when he would say something like that, my immediate reaction was like, “You’re right.  I can’t.”  Even though I knew I really could, that wasn’t going to motivate me, that wasn’t going to do it for me.  It is a little bit of trial and error, so keep trying things, but it is your job as a coach to try to find out what motivates each one of your athletes.

How to Positively Motivate Your AthleteHave Confidence in Your Athlete

As a coach, your job is to build them up.  Your job is to have confidence in them when they don’t have confidence in themselves.  That’s part of what makes a really good coach.  I promise, if you have confidence in your athletes, they are much more likely to build that confidence in themselves.

Parents, I think your biggest job is to be their number one source of support, especially emotional support.  Home should really be a safe place for them.  I know Coach Rebecca was talking about making sure that you listen to them so they feel heard.  That is really important.

Let Your Athlete Vent

You might not have all the answers, you may disagree with them, but everybody wants to be heard.  Allow them to vent their frustrations, sometimes maybe they talk about thinking they can’t do anything, or talk about things that disappoint them.  They need to have a safe place for that.  Having that at home allows them the freedom to feel those things and get it out.

Sometimes it is really helpful and necessary for them to talk to one of our coaches to help work through some of those things.  But home should be a safe place, it shouldn’t be a place of interrogation.  “How many of this did you do today?  How did this go? What did your coach say about this?  When are you going to get this done, et cetera, et cetera?”  Now I say that, and that doesn’t mean that you need to sugarcoat the reality.  I think it is really important to make sure that everybody is aware of what the situation is.  You don’t ever want to make your child feel unworthy or less than.

Does it Really Matter?

At the end of the day, so what if they don’t have the skills in time.  What does that really mean?  They need a little bit longer before they’re going to master those skills.  Is that such a bad thing?  Does it really matter if they’re not as good as one of their teammates?  I think what we want is to have happy, healthy athletes.

While having a little bit of competition can be very healthy, really what we want to do is learn how to positively motivate our kids, and have them look at it in comparison to themselves versus trying to compare themselves to other people.  A lot of times negative motivation brings up the comparison of others.

You’ll have healthier athletes if you really work, both parents and coaches, to motivate your athletes in a positive way, and also try to really pump them up and give them the support that they need.  It’s a bit about the differences between negative and positive motivation.

If you have any questions about things that might be appropriate to say or not say, please feel free to ask me.  Thanks so much.

Is your gymnast struggling with mental blocks or fear?  Check out my FREE resource for parents.