Motivation & Team Relations



Team Relations


Motivation can be defined as the drive necessary to succeed in a task, goal or action. In athletic terms, we can say that motivation is ATTITUDE IN ACTION. In order for any athletic team to achieve shared goals and a positive working experience, it is necessary for each team member to be self-motivated. Only then can the entire group become team motivated. Our task as coaches is to help our athletes turn their attitudes into action.

A coach cannot actually provide motivation, but rather teach it. We can furnish reasons for achievement and teamwork. We can emphasize the value of perseverance and positive attitudes. If we are truly successful and self-motivated as leaders, we can provide justifications for high self-esteem and self-respect in our athletes. We can have a profound impact on our kids that will carry them into this world with confidence. That is an important challenge for each of us.

As you read this, apply its contents to your own life as an adult, mentor, friend or parent. If your life is not where you would like it to be (or at least on the way there), your team will pick up on that. If you find yourself coaching for some of the wrong reasons ~ to beat out another coach at competition time or to pad your paycheck, I hope you will take a deep look at yourself and decide to set some goals of your own. Kids are intuitive and can easily sense a strong emotional connection between their coach and themselves. If they feel an absence of that commitment, they will not be willing to strive for goals with the same intensity that they would give a coach who they were sure had their best interest in mind.

Teaching motivation is a year-round process of preparation and timing. Kids must be given continual praise, incentives, consistency of leadership and opportunities for growth. Lessons should be taught and objectives pointed out on how to carry motivation into all other parts of their lives and schedules.

As you discover the concepts of self and team motivation, remember two things. One is that the more excited you are about your team and your coaching, the more excited your kids will be. This will transfer over to a greater understanding of group dynamics, willingness to work hard together and acceptance of team limitations. The second idea is hard to dispute. The greatest motivator of all is love. Shower your team with it.


Self Motivation

The key to self-motivation is putting things into perspective. In order for our kids to succeed and grow, they must first:

  • SEE THEMSELVES AS CAPABLE: You must try and raise your athletes’ self esteem enough so that they feel free to express their own value and worth. Positive affirmations are a wonderful way to help kids become comfortable with themselves. Ask them what they’re good at, what is special about each of them, why they deserve success and happiness. Have them share these things with one another and ask them to look at themselves every morning in the mirror and say “I am beautiful and capable and good.” Have them write positive write outs about their best qualities. Most of all, reinforce it!! It is difficult for kids to see themselves as winners if we are constantly telling them they aren’t good enough.
  • SET GOALS: Setting goals only works when the goals are realistic and there is an acceptance of limitations. Helping young people accept themselves is no easy task. As a coach, it is important to teach your athletes the importance of daily, weekly, monthly, short term and long term goals that can be defined and specific.
  • For instance, if one of your team members sets a goal to attain her back tuck and she hasn’t yet mastered a back handspring, the goal is almost doomed. In this case, you would discuss the goal in terms of reality and progression. By encouraging new goals that would include mastery of basic tumbling and then working up to the handspring rather than jumping right into the back tuck, the athlete has a much better chance of success.
  • Setting shorter-term goals week by week and allowing for goals to alter and update helps teach kids that re-evaluation is important; that not reaching goals quickly is not to be considered a character flaw. In fact, they may succeed faster with new and more practical goals in mind.
  • Be careful not to confuse goals and dreams. Dreams have been called goals without deadlines. Goals, on the other hand need specific steps that will take us one step closer to achieving them. If we fall in the process, we get back up, take another look at the goal and see if it needs to be updated. If it does, we have the power to alter it. If we still want to keep going, we may have to step a little more carefully along our way.
  • ACCEPTANCE OF LIMITATIONS: One of the biggest challenges to self-motivation is to accept limitations and work within them. I have always used myself as an example of this. If a goal of mine is to look like super model Cindy Crawford, what steps could I take to get there? The answer is that except for a total cosmetic and body altering surgery, I cannot look like Cindy Crawford. My choice then, is to do the best I can with what I have. I will make a commitment to keep my weight in relative check and dress in a becoming manner to my lack of hips and slightly bulging waist. I will make sure I take good care of my hair and use make-up in the way that will flatter my face the most, despite my ever so prominent jawline and pudgy little nose. On my final check in the mirror, before I walk out the door to practice, I want to see a reflection of the me that is my best. This philosophy carries over into the other parts of my life that are not physical, as well.
  • If you use this logic with your team and show them that you, too, are working within limitations, it will be much easier for each of them to accept their own.
  • PUTTING THINGS INTO PERSPECTIVE: It is sometimes hard, especially for kids, to feel good about themselves when others may be less than kind about so many things. Realize, and help your athletes to do the same, that the negative comments others make are usually reflections of their feelings toward themselves. People who are happy with themselves have little need to diminish others to make themselves look good. Those who feel little self-esteem try to project their misery onto others. You can have a more positive impact by refusing to let that happen and encouraging your kids to follow suit.
  • One of the great opportunities we can provide for our team members is a support group that will encourage positives. Don’t allow negative talk, pettiness, or self-defeating behaviors at practice and the result will be an upbeat, happy team.
  • MENTOR PROUDLY: For all of the lessons we try and teach our kids, the one that speaks the loudest is the one we illustrate by our own behavior. If you want your kids to be positive, simply display yourself as such. If you haven’t experienced your positive affirmation for the day, it will show! You cannot speak with your team about appreciating others if you continue to talk poorly about the team or the coach down the road. Whatever you do, wherever you go ~ they’re listening and watching your every move. Make sure you walk your talk.

Team Motivation

Everything mentioned in self-motivation can be blended into team motivation. As the coach, your responsibility is to facilitate that merger in a diplomatic and enthusiastic way. Take every opportunity you can to make every single team member feel special and important. Treat all of your athletes with respect and avoid pointing the same student out again and again as a perfect example (or even worse, as a poor example). Spread around responsibility so that every athlete learns to count on every other teammate (see Team Relations following). Also, take into account these components of team motivation:

  • BLENDING: Acceptance is a key to making team motivation work. The blending of teammates and their personal goals and limitations will help you set realistic team goals. If, for example, the athlete mentioned earlier does achieve that back tuck, we can applaud her efforts. However, if everyone else on the team is still working to achieve back handsprings, she may have to come to terms with the fact that the team goal will be different from her own. She may not have the opportunity to use her tuck in competition, as she would have liked. Your job as a coach is to congratulate her on her own accomplishment, but keep team priorities in the forefront.
  • Dropping the ‘me’ for ‘us’ is a valuable and important part of being on a team. It teaches a wonderful lesson on being in a group where the greater priorities are the ones that can be accomplished together. Acceptance of team goals and personal sacrifices becomes a team responsibility that your athletes will look forward to and be proud of. When self-motivation is in place, each athlete will maintain his or her unique identity while enjoying the benefits and comfort of team trust and togetherness.
  • NEGATIVE MOTIVATION: Negative motivation is a harmful mistake used by coaches who may need to examine their own sense of value. It is sometimes in the form of demeaning other teams or coaches. If you tell your kids you don’t care how they place in a competition as long as they beat the cross town rivals or if you threaten to walk out on them if they don’t perform well, you are doing them a grave disservice that confuses the quality of a performance with your own negative inner feelings. If you let them set a goal to place a certain way in a competition or make promises that you cannot keep, such as knowing how the judges will score or the crowd will react, you are setting your team up for disappointment that will not be easy to recover from.
  • Another form of negative motivation is to punish your kids with physical exercise. If you want to instill an appreciation for the benefits conditioning will bring to your program, do not send the message that exercise is ‘bad’.
  • Finally, if your kids are working hard and you keep telling them “it’s not good enough”, don’t expect them to internalize anything other than that. Remember, if they think they can or they think they can’t, they’re absolutely right.


What Motivates People

Teaching motivation is a process that you must be prepared to put a great deal of time into. Incentives will help produce happy, productive athletes. Any little thing you can do to make your kids understand how important they are in your life will enhance your relationship with them and your overall success as a team.

          Sometimes, we overlook the most obvious ways to inspire success in our kids. Other times we are so busy trying to perfect what is wrong, we forget to praise what is right. Take time for each of your team members. Strive to make personal contact in the form of a smile, high five, thumbs up or verbal acknowledgment of a job well done every chance you get. Most of all, make the clear distinction between how you feel for them as individuals (which is positive and hopeful) and how you wish a skill could be improved upon.


Team Relations

Every member of your team comes to you with different personalities and life-styles, varying values and moods and separate expectations of themselves, their coach and their teammates. It is the role of the coach to create an atmosphere where a positive and productive working relationship between team members can develop. While it is not necessary for your team members to spend every waking moment together, it is vital that during practice and official team time they are best friends.

Team relations includes understanding and nurturing group dynamics to allow friendships to flourish. Your role as a coach is to allow proper time for your team to get to know one another and encourage team trust and unity. Ways to accomplish this kind of positive interpersonal communication include:

  • SHARED RESPONSIBILITY: Please think twice before assigning or voting for team captains. Surely, every one of your athletes is responsible enough to undertake a task or two during the year. You must develop a team in which all members can be counted on for making calls, sending emails, organizing a fund-raiser, making signs or schedules, etc., then you can also develop a team in which everyone can be trusted to work hard, be self disciplined and carry on your structure and traditions with a sense of pride.
  • TEAM CIRCLES: A great way to build trust, set goals and work out team concerns is to sit in a circle and share important thoughts and feelings. Circle guidelines are:
  • One person speaks at a time and all other team members give the speaker their complete attention, eye contact and respect.
  • Team trust is dependent on the concept of whatever is shared in the circle, stays in the circle. Coaches, however, should not allow for private family matters or hurtful topics to be spoken of freely in these circles.
  • Ideas, thoughts and feelings are shared with respect ~ constructively and honestly. Circles should be a safe place to discuss issues, not fight or downgrade others.
  • Never rush through or pass up a team member who has something valuable to say ~ and everyone does. Sometimes you may have to wait a small while for someone to gain control of feelings or formulate thoughts.
  • The role of the coach in the circle is to facilitate, clarify and supervise. Do not allow yourself to get in the middle of an issue that you may lose your perspective with. Some coaches are more comfortable sitting up a bit higher than their teams (coach on the chair with the team in a circle around her) to create needed distance.
  • Beginning of practice ‘business’ or plans for the day, goal setting or mental imagery.
  • Appreciation or Feedback Circle: One word to describe how each team member is feeling; one at a time, looking to the person on the right and saying one positive thing about them; one goal for the next practice; a reason to look forward to an upcoming assembly, game or competition, etc.
  • BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW CIRCLE: Have each athlete give a surprising or out-of-the-ordinary fact about themselves.
  • ‘IT MAY SEEM’ CIRCLE: This circle gives each athlete the opportunity to say, “Sometimes it may seem that I am ________, but what it really is, is that I am ___________”. I love this circle for clearing up misconceptions that we have about one another. It helps everyone accept their teammates and respect their honesty, as well.
  • LETTERS: An idea to allow your team to share their feelings with you is to have each of them write a personal letter. It should focus on expressing their views of how the year is going, what they especially like and how things could be even better. As you read and make notes on each letter, you can begin to make accurate assessments on your program and individual team members. Write each athlete back, addressing concerns and offering constructive feedback. This is a great opportunity to note some of the concerns teammates have about one another. For example, you might write, “A couple of your teammates noticed that you have been very quiet at practice for a few weeks. It’s important to me that everything is going well for you and I’ve been wondering, too, if you are comfortable or if you’d like to talk.” Never point out who said what or be accusatory. Letters are also a great time to let each of your kids know that you really care for them and think they’re doing a great job.
  • INCENTIVES: It means a lot to your kids when they realize you have taken the time to do something special for them. Incentives are motivational quotes, cards, funny notes or anything you can think of to pump up your team. Sending incentives in the mail is especially fun for your team members.
  • BOOKS: There are so many motivational and quote books available at every bookstore. Use them as gifts or team books that are read, talked about or even written about on the inside covers by each athlete, then passed around to the next teammate. You may have a book of quotes in which everyone chooses their favorite and talks about how it relates to your team. You can also assign ‘buddy bookers’, where team members are paired in groups of two to share quotes or stories that are motivational.
  • PERCENTAGES: To achieve team unity, everyone needs to be at the same level. Ask your team what would be an appropriate percentage to expect out of every team member. Then ask each athlete where he or she is now and where and when he or she expects to be. This can lead to in-depth discussions about pulling ones own weight, shared goals, evaluating team practices and growing as a team.
  • CELEBRATE DIFFERENCES: Cultural, racial and religious differences should be celebrated with understanding and compassion. As a coach, you must not allow discrimination or preconceived ideas about people into your program. Help your team learn to ask open and educational questions by setting a fine example of consistency, curiosity and open-mindedness.





For me, it all seems so easy…I was a great coach. I know I am a great Mom now. I know my staff really loves working with me, too. Conceited? Not at all. Here’s how I know and here’s my personal philosophy on being the best ANYTHING:

Think of what you needed at any time in your life. What kind of Mom or Dad did you need when you were a kid? What kind of coach did you need when you were a student athlete? What kind of sister or brother did you need? What kind of friend did you wish you could have had at a particular time of your life? Wanna be the best? BE THAT PERSON YOU WISH COULD HAVE BEEN THERE FOR YOU. Never, ever forget who you’re here for and what they need from you. The rewards will be endless.

2. Trickle Up

Finally, I offer you my theory of working with young people. It revolves around the idea that we can choose to make a difference. We touch each of our 12 (whatever your number) kids in a positive way and we strive to make a profound difference in their lives by accentuating the positives and increasing their sense of teamwork, contribution and confidence. Then, those 12 people will touch the lives of 12 more people in a positive way. The Trickle Up Theory can then improve our world and spread a message of compassion and integrity.

If, on the other hand, we choose to use negative motivation, coach for the wrong reasons, degrade the efforts of our kids, parents, teachers, judges, etc., then we can expect the kids in our charge to go into the world as a negative force. If those 12 young people touch 12 other lives in a destructive way, the Trickle Down Theory will harm our chances for peace and civility in this world.

We have a significant choice to make when we agree to be responsible for the attitudes of developing minds. My hope is that the Trickle Up Theory prevails.


















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