Maintaining Players’ Motivation

David Sirota, Louis A. Mischkind, and Michael Irwin Meltzer wrote an article titled “Why your Employees are losing Motivation” for Harvard Business School. They open with a powerful statement:

Most companies have it all wrong. They don’t have to motivate their employees. They have to stop demotivating them.

Coaches make the same mistake. Many coaches worry about motivating their players. However, in most cases, players choose to play basketball. It is not homework or Algebra. Basketball is an inherently fun activity. Unfortunately, many coaches intentionally eliminate the fun from basketball in an attempt to meet some higher goal.

Sirota, et al. suggest that workers bring three goals to work and players’ goals differ very little:

  • Equity: To be respected and to be treated fairly in areas such as pay, benefits, and job security.
  • Achievement: To be proud of one’s job, accomplishments, and employer.
  • Camaraderie: To have good, productive relationships with fellow employees.

When players lose motivation, often one of these three things is the issue. Often, when a player receives less playing time, he may lose motivation. Coaches think the player is sulking because he does not play and believe that the player should think about the team first.

However, the issue often is not the playing time. Instead, some players feel that they did not have a fair chance to earn playing time, which affects their motivation. I coached two de-motivated players several years ago. I spoke to them at the beginning of the year and explained that I was a new coach and they had a new opportunity. I set the expectations for them to meet in order to earn playing time and stayed true to my promise when they met the expectations. The de-motivated players became the hardest workers on the team because they felt like they controlled their own destiny, rather than feeling like they were in a hopeless situation where it never mattered what they did.

Some players lose motivation because they equate a lack of playing time with a lack of accomplishment. With a player in this situation, create small goals for the player and give them an important role on the team. To keep younger players interested on the bench, I have had players watch for certain things. At a timeout, they tell the starters that one player is left-handed or during the action, they call out screens from the sideline. They contribute to the success of the team even though they do not play as much.

Finally, some players feel like they are less a part of the team if they do not play. In these situations, the coach needs to include the player and point out their contributions to the team, even if those contributions consist solely of working hard in practice to prepare the starters for the game.

Sirota, et al. provide eight ideas to use to maintain your players’ motivation:

  1. Instill an inspiring purpose.
  2. Provide recognition.
  3. Be an expediter for your employees.
  4. Coach your employees for improvement.
  5. Communicate fully.
  6. Face up to poor performance.
  7. Promote teamwork.
  8. Listen and involve.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

Creating the idea

The mark of a great coach is sustained success. Success often breeds success, so once you win, it makes it easier. 8th graders enroll at the high school with the most success, so it continues to feature the best players. Colleges recruit based on success, as the more successful programs have a better chance to go to the Final Four, so they get better players who make it easier to get back to the Final Four.

However, is it that simple? Is Duke University good every year because Coach K regularly signs 3-4 McDonald’s All-Americans per class? Or, do the great programs do something that others don’t?

I don’t really know. I’ve never been around Coach K or Ben Howland or Roy Williams or Tom Izzo to know how they maintain their success. However, in The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, I found a clue. A hotel manager explains to Gerber why his hotel differs from others. The manager says about his first day on the job when he met the owner:

Somehow the idea of what we do here is his idea. And that’s what he took so long to communicate to me on that first day – his idea of this place and what that meant to him.

I did work the Gonzaga basketball camp one summer. Gonzaga uses this idea. They sell players on the idea of Gonzaga basketball. They recruit similar players and give the current players veto power over any recruit. If the players do not think the player fits with their group, they do not offer a scholarship. Gonzaga’s sustained success has largely been due to this philosophy. They recruit gym rats who want to play basketball all the time. That’s the idea they sell. I am sure they expand on the idea, but that is what I felt when I was there. I have rarely seen a team that seemed to like each other as much.

The hotel manager continues:

“He said, ‘The work we do is a reflection of who we are. If we’re sloppy at it, it’s because we’re sloppy inside…How we do our work becomes a mirror of how we are inside.”

The best coaches create a similar ethos. It is more than a coach telling the players to play hard. It is what being a part of the program means. How can you go to Duke, knowing its history, and not play hard, dive on the floor, take pride in your defense, etc? The idea is set forth, players know what they have to do and the coaching becomes easier, as the idea polices the players.

Gerber writes that the most frequent question he receives is: “How do I get my people to do what I want?” He writes:

You can’t…If you want it done, I tell them, you’re going to have to create an environment in which ‘doing it’ is more important to your people than not doing it. Where ‘doing it well’ becomes a way of life for them.

Coaches think that motivation is the pre-game speech. I believe that if the players need a rah-rah speech before the game, something is wrong. To build a successful program, coaches must create the environment which breeds success and which makes doing things the right way – all the time – more important than doing things the easy way. When the environment is there, players police themselves and coaching and maintaining success become easier because it is built into the every day habits of the team.

Coaching a pro women’s team: Dealing with losses

Published by Full Court online, March 2003.

After two lackluster performances, and a lack or practice time due to a big indoor soccer festival and the Damligan All-Star Game, we had 10 days to prepare for our very important match against the defending champions, Solna Vikings, and their new American player, Charmin Smith.
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