Jan 19, 2011
The following “question” comes from Marina (who actually coaches at a club in Australia) and centers around the frustrations of motivating athletes. Here is the initial email and my response to this complicated coaching issue.
Thank you for offering this tool and helping other people out.
As I mentioned to you, I have a lot of questions all the time. Some of them will be sorted with time but with others, you will be a great hand. I truly admire your initiative.
Right now I am struggling with my gymnasts’ motivation. I have developed a very successful program for the past two years at the gym where I work at and the results are not the best yet, but are very visible. Some kids are really happy because it’s the first time they ever got to go to states, and nationals, which wouldn’t happen before.
However, three kids from my team left at the end of the year, because they just thought they were not having enough “fun”.
I don’t know how to introduce more fun and still get the job done. It’s simply tricky.
I bond with the girls, they like me and show affection but some of them just avoid the hard work, specially because before I stepped up as a head coach, the gym was mainly recreational and some miss that too much.
In your opinion, what can I incorporate in my program to keep ‘em coming? What do you do with your competitive gymnasts that makes them wipe their sweat and tears and come back the next day for another session with a smile on their faces??
I’ve seen a lot of strategies like games and stickers and fooling around but I don’t seem to agree with a bit of that. I need to find a balance.
You have discovered the never ending, always present issue of motivating the underachievers. Every gym has them and every coach has to deal with them. It can be frustrating and all consuming if we allow it to be. On the other hand it is the coaches that truly care enough to seek and explore different methods for reaching these athletes that should be considered the TRUE coaches. IT is easy coaching the talented and the self motivated. Those type of kids will be successful in all walks of life. Having an impact on the unmotivated, unfocused, uninspired, and those lacking in the character skills needed to be productive in LIFE, is something that more coaches should take pride in. The fact that you are asking these questions says volumes about your concerns for all of the athletes that fall under your control.
I have found that no matter how hard you try, there will always be those that are unreachable. If they become an insurmountable problem within your program then there is no other alternative then to ask them to seek coaching assistance elsewhere. I have seen the damage that a “few bad apples” can cause. TAKE NOTE HERE: Again I am talking about the UNREACHABLE as all children deserve our best shot at motivating and directing them toward a more positive path. SO clean house if you absolutely need to and start with a renewed enthusiasm and positive supportive atmosphere in your gym.
Next it is important to establish a “culture” of high standards. Now not every athlete is going to be an olympian BUT every athlete can have high standards within the scope of their personal abilities goals and aspirations. SOMETIMES it is their personal goals that are the issue so IF they don’t line up with your goals for your program (for instance “I just want to train 3 hours a week, have fun, and flip around”) then you have to either realign their goals or make a decision as to whether they should remain a part of your program.
Getting parents and gym management on board with you is vitally important for without their support you are fighting a loosing battle. Having big goals and aspirations for a program in which management is not willing to support from a philosophical or financial position is fruitless and a waste of your valuable time. Likewise if we can’t get parents to believe in what we are trying to accomplish then the end result will also be undesirable. Parents and management should be considered allies and are very important in the overall MOTIVATION PROCESS for the athletes in your program. They need to be part of the coach/athlete/parent success triangle (see one of my blogs) in the entire process of achieving the best results.
We all know that in order to excel in this ever evolving and constantly demanding sport of gymnastics there is no other option other than to WORK HARD. This is a given. What separates the great programs from the mediocre is to disguise WORKING with energetic coaching, challenging goals, motivational reinforcement, reward for success etc. Working has to be rewarding, entertaining, challenging and fulfilling OR it just becomes WORK. IF there was a text book on how to do this from A to Z it certainly would be a best seller. IT is something learned (sometimes inherent in the coaching personalities) through trial and error, years of experiences so as to come up with a system that works for your individual style as a coach and your particular dynamics as a club.
We try hard to foster a great atmosphere in our gym. A culture of winning, working hard, achieving goals for sure BUT also a culture of very supportive teammates. THIS plays a big role in the motivation process. If the gym becomes something they identify with, and enjoy being at half your motivational battles are over.
Having great LEADERS in your gym makes your job as a coach much less stressful. We use our older more experienced athletes to mentor, teach and inspire the younger ones on the ins and outs of the sport, the benefits of participations, and the FUN. I have a gym full of great leaders, kids that have been in the program for years and they take care of problems before I even have to address them. I encourage coaches to develop leaders within their team. A few good leaders in a program can go a long way in helping to make sure your message is delivered.
Break the monotony! Even the most inspired and motivated athlete can become stagnant and bored with a regiment that never changes. Mix it up a bit. Changing the daily goals, requirements, complexes, conditioning program etc is of course a good place to start. BUT really I am talking about introducing contests, games and challenges from time to time. You would be surprised what a 14 year old would do for a sticker, or a stamp. Be creative and come up with something that works for you. Here are few ideas that we have used from time to time with great Motivational results.
- Fill a jar with marbles- every new skill, hit routine, stuck dismount
- Connect a chain- Meet a goal and add a link to a paper chain. What group can make the longest chain.
- Play War (card game) – earn a card for every goal accomplished. At the end of the week play a game of war with your cards.
- Solve a Puzzle- earn a puzzle piece or a clue to a riddle -
- Skill Contests- who can stick the most dismounts, most series in a row, most hit routines in a row etc.
- The Price is Right- earn a chance to put your name in for a drawing. The more goals accomplished the more times your name is entered. Draw names for a chance to win prizes (draw 5-6 names and have them try to guess the price of the items up for bid).
- Star Bucks- Earn fake money over a period of time. Have an auction with each team member bringing in something they no longer need (leotards, make up, grip bags etc) or they can purchase items for the auction.
The art of motivation is often the missing ingredient in many programs. The technical knowledge is easy to obtain. Training strategies can be learned, but motivating athletes with different backgrounds, different goals, different outlooks, desires and aspirations is truly an ART. As with any art form, forethought, preparation, and planning will certainly contribute to more desirable results.
I hope this helps. Thanks for the blog idea.
Please feel free to share this with your coaching friends.