Talk to any teacher and they’ll tell you that motivating children is the one of the hardest parts of their job.
Now as hockey coaches you would think that we were immune from these struggles. After all, hockey is a lot more fun than Algebra and every young player wants to get to the NHL, right?
Sadly, whether you blame it on technology, pop-culture, or adolescence, today’s coaches are fighting the same motivation battles that are being waged by teachers in the classroom.
Modern-day athletes are fueled by the constant bombardment of instant gratification and external motivation, and many coaches are left scratching their heads as they try to figure out how to get the most of out of their players.
Fortunately, you don’t have to fight this battle alone, because we have compiled a list of ten, tried-and-true tips for effectively motivating your athletes.
Tip # 1 – Consider Your Level
Personal motivation stems from what an individual athlete hopes to achieve from their playing experience. Something like earning a college-scholarship may be very motivating for competitive athletes or high school aged players, but it may be very far outside the minds of younger recreational league players.
It’s important that coaches consider the age and ability of their athletes when deciding which motivational techniques will be most effective. In order to be meaningful, motivational techniques should align with a player’s developmental age, ability level and their individual goals. By considering these factors, coaches can select motivational techniques that best fit the needs of their individual athletes.
Tip #2 – Know What Motivates Them
It may sound simple, but knowing your players is one of the strongest ways that you can figure out how to best motivate them. Every player on your team is going to be different, and each is going to have their own unique way of mentally approaching the game. Using a 1-size fits all approach to motivation is ineffective and will often leave you feeling like you are spinning your wheels as a coach.
Some players want more playing time while others measure their success in goals scored. If you’re lucky, you have at least a few youth athletes that buy into a team first mentality and measure success with wins. Whatever it may be, you should be having different conversations with each individual player about achieving their own personal goals.
By getting to know your players, learning their interests, their goals, and what “makes them tick” you can individually tailor your motivation tactics to ensure that you get the most out of each athlete.
Tip #3 – Set “SMART” Team And Individual Goals
Goal-setting is one of the most powerful techniques for increasing individual and team motivation. Since everyone loves a good acronym in sports, this one should help you with a good plan.
To get the most out of this activity be sure to help your athletes set S.M.A.R.T. goals for themselves:
Specific – People often set goals that are far too general or open ended. Encourage your athletes to be clear and direct about what they want to achieve, because this increases the likelihood that they will be successful.
Measurable – Strong goals are ones that can clearly be assessed. Ensure that your athletes have a definitive way of knowing if a specific goal was reached, or if they have to make some modifications moving forward.
Achievable – We all want our athletes to shoot for the stars, but when it comes to goal-setting they need to make sure that their goals are realistic for their age, ability level and effort.
Relevant – Athletes’ lives are constantly evolving and being influenced by ever-changing factors. Encourage your players to set goals that are important to them, and that make sense given their current life experiences.
Timely – Assigning a due-date to goals significantly increases the likelihood that they will be achieved. Work with players to develop short-range, mid-range and long-range goals that fit their life objectives and schedules.
Tip #4 – Communicate Effectively
Setting SMART goals for your players is a critical part of keeping them motivated and engaged, but effectively communicating these goals is just as important. As coaches we sometimes assume that our players automatically understand what we want, even when that’s not the case.
Don’t assume that all of your players heard something the first time you told them…or the second…or the third.
Important concepts need to be ever present in your coaching communication.
You can’t overdo this or it will be information overload. Prioritize the lessons that your young hockey players need to learn and communicate the most important ones to them every day. The less important ones on a less frequent basis.
It is an accepted principle in marketing that a buyer needs to see a brand at least 7 times before they buy. You are asking your players to buy into your concepts, so there is a similar thing going on there.
Be sure to take the time to carefully communicate all of your expectations to your players. Consider using both individual and team meetings as a way to keep players engaged in the process. Also remember that not all players process information the same way, so try to use both written and verbal feedback to account for different learning styles.
Tip #5 – Allow Players To Grow Through Failure
Sometimes the biggest motivational mistake we make as coaches is not giving our players room to fail.
While adversity is never an easy thing to experience, failure is often necessary in order for personal growth. As coaches we often try to shield our players from failure, with the unintended consequence of limiting their growth and development. Rather than learn to step out of their comfort zone, players in these situations will begin to avoid failure at all cost.
If all someone is allowed to experience is success, then they never seek out new skills or seek to improve the ones they have. Simply put, a youth athlete may never learn anything at all from success.
The greatest teacher, failure is.
As a coach, it’s important to create an environment where players aren’t afraid to fail. Teach team that failure is an important and necessary part of getting better and use failure as a teachable-moment to aid in development.
Tip #6 – Be A Talent Scout
As important as it is for players to grow through failure, they also need to grow through success.
Failure can drive them to get better but success is important too. When things are going well it’s easy for them to stay positive and motivated, but when they aren’t finding success, it’s important for coaches to step in and highlight the small milestones that they achieve.
Set up goals throughout the season. Some goals should be difficult, but others should be easy (or at least readily achievable).
An easy way to accomplish this is to be sure to find some positives to highlight for each player, especially if the game didn’t turn out the way you wanted. This doesn’t mean that you turn a blind-eye to areas of needed improvement, but don’t simply dwell on the mistakes of the day.
Tip #7 – Reward Teamwork
We often think about motivation as it relates to individual athletes, but in reality, team dynamics plays a large role in dictating motivational success. Players who have a strong sense of connection with their teammates are often more motivated and get more enjoyment out of their experience.
One of the best motivational things then that coaches can do is to strengthen teamwork and cooperation among their players. By incorporating team-building actives and rewarding teamwork, coaches can build a positive and inclusive environment for all their athletes, while helping to foster individual player motivation and success.
Tip #8 – Define Success
Famed basketball coach John Wooden once stated that success is, “peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming”. Now the best thing about this definition of success is that it encourages continual motivation by focusing on the one thing that our athletes can control…..effort.
Unfortunately, when we define success by winning percentages or points, we actually limit motivation by centering most of the attention on things that are outside of our players’ control. In contrast, linking success to things within a player’s control (effort, preparedness, etc.) actually increases motivation by allowing players to focus their attention on those things that they can impact directly.
Tip #9 – Develop A “Next Play” Mentality
One of the hardest things to teach athletes of any age is how to stay motivated when things aren’t going their way. Let’s face it, it’s easy for any of us to get excited when we are finding success, but motivation quickly begins to wane once the going gets tough. Young athletes are often most susceptible to being impacted by the emotional ups and downs of competition, so it’s important to teach them how to keep a high-level of motivation in the face of adversity.
One very simple way to accomplish this goal with young athletes is to teach them to focus on being successful on their next play, rather than dwell on past failures. Remind them that it’s impossible to go back and undo previous mistakes, but every upcoming play is a chance for them to turn things around.
Tip# 10 – Teach Growth Mindset
The journey of an athlete is a marathon not a sprint, and the same holds true for motivation.
With this in mind coaches want to help their players develop what psychologist Dr. Carol Dwek refers to as a growth mindset. According to her research, athletes with a growth mindset view achievement as a fluid concept that can be impacted by things like practice and effort. Unlike players with a fixed mindset who believe that achievement is based mainly on talent and therefore unalterable, growth mindset teaches players that things like effort, attitude and perseverance can have an ongoing impact on their success.
Tip #11 – Don’t Lose The Fun
Hockey is fun. If you are reading this you probably have a love of the sport.
I can almost guarantee that your love of the game was not born from endless drills and coaching philosophies. At some point in your life you laced up a pair of skates and went out and had fun.
Make sure the youth hockey players you coach have that opportunity too.