Stop Trying to Motivate Your Athlete

Stop Trying to Motivate Your Athlete

Hello everyone.  I’m Coach Rebecca, and lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about athletes ending up with mental blocks.  They end up with these skills that, for whatever reason, they can’t do right now.  So on one hand, you have an athlete saying, “I want to get the skill.  I don’t want to quit,” but she’s not showing any effort to work on the skill.  Then, on the other hand, you have the parent over who’s saying, “Well you should work on it.  If you want to get this skill, you should work on it. You should try to push through it.” 

Bribing & Punishment Won’t Work

Some parents are resort to bribing.  They tell their athlete, “If you do it, I’ll get you (fill in the blank).”  Some resort to punishing, saying, “If you don’t work on it, then I’m not getting you (fill in the blank).”  Then there are the parents that are just backing off cause they’re thinking, “I don’t even know what to do.  She’s miserable because she can’t do it.  She’s not motivated to work on it.  I’m at my wit’s end.”
So if any of this sounds familiar, I’m going to tell you why that’s not working and what you should be focusing on instead to support your athlete.

Brain on Lockdown

None of those tactics work because a mental block is not a motivation issue.  It’s not that your athlete has lost their motivation to work on skills, it’s that they’re actually in a state of brain lockdown around a certain skill.  The human brain is designed to avoid things that feel dangerous to it.  Now, we know that this is a well-learned skill.  It’s well-trained and it’s actually safe in reality.  It’s not dangerous for you, the athlete, but something has happened at some point to damage the trust and to create the sensation of the brain feeling like this is not safe.  When that happens, the brain sends you into avoidance mode, pulling out all the stops to get you the athlete from trying to even think about it or look at it.  You don’t even want to go near your Air Track if it means your parent might say to you, “Oh, why don’t you tumble a little bit?”  Because your brain is wanting to keep you safe.
So then what happens is you, the athlete, feel worse when there’s a bribe or a punishment or a nag because that ramps up the volume on the “I can’t” thinking because your brain is going, “You can’t, you can’t, don’t do it.  Don’t do it.”  So your mom is saying, “I’ll get you an iPad,” and you’re like, “I want that and I still can’t do it, so, therefore, I’m extra lame.”  At that point, your motivation goes down because your confidence has gone down.

“I can’t”

Some athletes will get this idea or feeling of wanting to get a skill because it will make their parents happy or their coach happy,  Well, that won’t work either.  All that does is make you feel like you’re disappointing people all the time, which makes the “I can’t” volume turn up even louder.  Again, this is not a motivation issue.  This is not about doing it for the team or doing it for this thing or for that.  You’re feeling like, “I can’t do it and that makes me a horrible person.  I don’t want to quit because I love my sport. I just want to get through this funk.”
We’re putting all the emphasis on the problem in a situation like this and not the solution.  All of these good intentions, solutions, are just making the fear worse, making the avoidance bigger, making the “I can’t” voice louder.  So, if that’s not the solution, what is the solution?

Building Confidence

I’m going to tell you right now – here’s what you should be doing instead.  Instead of focusing on motivation, trying to get your athlete to do it, you should be focusing on things that build confidence.  Every single thing you do to try to solve this issue should be confidence related, not motivation.
The first thing that I do in the PerformHappy community with athletes who are struggling with mental blocks is we start them in the Confidence Jumpstart challenge.  The whole purpose of that challenge is to get you to work with your brain, not against it.
There’s this misconception that you have to outsmart your brain or come up with something to distract your brain while you go do the skill, but it’s not about that.  It’s about working with your brain because then you get a permanent solution, not a temporary solution.  You have to work with your brain so that you can get your confidence back and realize, “Oh, I’m not broken.  I’m just going about this the wrong way.” 

Building Courage

Next, you have to build your courage muscles.  We have a Courage Challenge in PerformHappy that’s all about a strategic courage-building process.  It’s not about you switching off your brain and thinking, “Just chuck the skill.  I hope I don’t die.”  It’s about a very calculated way to work with your brain and having your brain work with you to get your courage up and boost it in a lot of different ways.
There are also learn ways to build confidence when you can’t physically train if you’re out for injury or if you’re quarantined.  If you feel like you can’t make any progress right now you’re 100 percent wrong.  There’s is a whole challenge in PerformHappy community that’s all about training when you can’t train.  In a way, it’s actually even more productive than physical training.

Mental Toughness

Then, you also have to build mental toughness.  If you’re feeling, “I can’t handle stress, I can’t handle fear, I can’t handle hard things,” then you’re constantly going to be undercutting yourself.  In order to have lasting confidence, you have to know that you can handle the tough stuff.
I have found that mental blocks make the most confident athletes.  Someone who’s never had a mental block doesn’t have access to the level of confidence that somebody can have when they breakthrough.  When an athlete has handled something that felt hopeless, that felt insurmountable, when they get to the other side of it and they know it’s not temporary, it gives them this sense of competence that you can’t shake it.  And that goes way beyond sports.

Finding Your Motivation

Athletes, don’t work for your parent.  Don’t work for your coach.  Stop trying to do what other people want you to do or what you think they want you to do.  Stop trying to please other people.  You have to find your voice and your why and your motivation.  That’s going to reignite your passion for your sport, and then you have to start believing in yourself.
I have another challenge that we just wrapped up live this week in PerformHappy that’s recorded for members called the Confidence Accelerator.  The challenge gets to those core issues, those reasons why people self-sabotage, and the reasons why people get so close, and then it falls apart.  This challenge boosts that and I’m so excited for the kids who have been working through this stuff already.
There’s another challenge about getting happy because if you are not happy, then what is the point?  So your job from here forward is not to focus on motivation, but to focus on confidence.  Do everything in your power to build your confidence.

Are You Doing it Right?

Now, if you think you’re already doing it right, I have a couple of questions to ask you so you can decide for yourself if what you’re doing is working or if it’s not okay.  Athletes, if you think you’re going about it the right way, ask yourself, “Is my brain my friend or my enemy?”  If you can honestly answer, “My brain is my friend.  I worked together with it, I listened to it.  It’s helpful.  It’s something that I use to help me get to my goals rather than something that holds me back.”
If your brain is your enemy and you get mad at it, you want to shut it off, and you wish you didn’t even have a brain at all, then you are going about it the wrong way and you’re not building confidence.

How You Respond to Fear

Then the second question I want to ask you is when you’re scared, what do you do?  Ask yourself that.  Athletes, if your answer is either avoid or try harder, keep pushing, keep pushing, those answers indicate that you are not building confidence or motivation and you’re just digging yourself deeper in that hole.
So again, stop focusing on motivation and start doing everything in your power to build confidence, that confidence is going to help you get your skills and get to the level you want in your sport, and it goes so far beyond sport.  That’s my real goal with my PerformHappy business.  So if you have questions, find me at  Thanks for watching.

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