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The breaking point- effective motivation 

Kids these days are soft, I hear it all the time. Easily offended and coddled by parents to get what they want, whether they earned it or not. I wouldn’t disagree, but I do whole heartedly disagree with the popular methods for trying to get through to our youth athletes. Tough love, shaming, or straight up bribery are robbing our kids positive experience in youth athletics.

We don’t need to break our kids down and rebuild them through yelling, punishments, or insults. We don’t need to bribe them with promises of fancy awards, recruiting brags, celebrity-like treatment and $200 uniforms or fancy tournament tents. We need to teach them the satisfaction that comes with a job well done; the feeling of getting exactly what they earned, and the disappointment that comes when they don’t. This generation has lost the pride of putting out their best effort because our focus and our celebrations are being placed on outcomes, awards, and future goals outside of their control. If they don’t put the work in today, why worry? Mom and Dad will just call someone and get it done for them anyway, or we can just switch teams.

Great coaches bring the best out of their teams through total and unwavering faith in their player’s potential. Great coaches believe that every player, regardless of where his or her skills are currently, has the ability to get better. Ever have a coach, boss, or teacher that you didn’t want to let down, because they believed in you even more than you believe in you? If you were lucky you did, and you likely remember exactly how they made you feel. Special, worthy, inspired, capable, important, and brave.

Conversely, ever have a leader who found fault in you no matter what you did. Or perhaps they ignored when you did something right and only focused on your mistakes? Eventually kids stop trying to impress or live up to the impossible standards of these coaches- adopting a why bother attitude. Maybe this coach promises a recruiting opportunity or an award at the end as a motivation but puts no value in the work you put out if you’re not the superstar. Maybe your parents want their money’s worth, you do just enough to get them off your back. You put in what you have to – just enough. But you’re always thinking about quitting, questioning why you play, why you waste your time. You’re always wondering if it’s worth it. You forget the love of the game, of the process, of your own abilities and the value of those around you. You miss out on the opportunity to learn valuable life lessons. You burn out because you have no greater purpose in playing, no real value. And maybe, you quit.

A coach can build players faster and create a more solid winning culture through sheer faith in their ability to improve than with a thousand called out mistakes. A few years ago I ran an experiment on my team setting out to prove just that. I based my coaching for an entire season of a varsity team around the belief that every single player had a maximum value of potential. I made corrections only framed in a positive structure; we talked about where to improve instead of where we went wrong. We celebrated every possible thing we did right whenever we had the chance. We looked for opportunities to praise effort that was above what was asked for. And though the goal was simply to focus on a positive culture and player development, the byproduct was a winning streak the likes of which that team had never seen. We broke records across the board, we finished 3rd in the state at the state tourney. We built memories, confidence, and the belief that loving the process and earning everything through hard work changes everything. We built something that could be sustained.

Winning is an outcome, an event. It’s not a culture. It’s over as soon as it happens and has to be re-earned from scratch at every competition. It can be stamped out in a flash with an injury, stolen by poor officials, illness, a bad attitude, or weather conditions. A positive culture, confidence, valuing effort are investments in people and in programs, that can be built upon. That if properly nourished can last even through – and maybe even in spite of- adversity. They payoff far beyond the moment the scoreboard is shut off and that winning score disappears.

Read about my team experiment here:

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