One Of The Most Overlooked Coaching Strategies In Modern Soccer: Motivating Players

how to motivate players in sports, soccer youth players and up

Let's face it, being a coach is not as easy as it looks from the other side of the field. As coaches, we must manage emotions, injuries, time, and a million other things within the span of 90 minutes. One of the challenges we here in most coaching circles is the lack of motivation from their players. In a time where kids play multiple sports all year round it is natural that they go through periods of losing interest or inspiration to perform. This mentality is the unfortunate bug that strikes teams all over the world and very well could ruin seasons at higher levels. 

Player motivation should remain as much a factor in your weekly session planning as your tactical and technical team goals. Managing player motivation may be one of the harder tasks we face but with our 5 tips below you will be on your way to becoming not only a better coach but also a better leader in your workplace, home, and community!

Tip #1 – Identify How Critical Player Motivation Actually Is

As a coach f you can first recognize the true value of player motivation, then you are on your way to a successful season. One of the issues coaches face is avoiding the critical nature we should all place on managing the psychological aspects of the game. It's like the old saying goes, "the first step to improvement is acknowledging there's a problem".

Few coaches decide to devote the necessary time required to truly understand how to motivate youth players. Seasoned coaches will agree that the motivation of your players can at times make the difference in the outcome of a merely average season or a trophy hoisting one. Motivation and hard work will always improve a players capacity to perform, execute, and learn at their highest levels which in turn will provide an infectious mentality to the others around them. 

Simply by acknowledging this critical aspect and brainstorming ideas around player motivation could certainly determine the work rate of your players this season. 

Tip#2 – A Teacher's Mentality

As a former teacher, I can tell you that this is by far one of the best strategies to embrace as a coach. Let's face it, coaching is teaching, and they have the same priorities, progress above all. In a society where winning and losing sometimes come to the forefront, we as coaches can often lose the fact that progress is far better than regress. A great quote I've told my players each season regarding progress is this: 

soccer quotes for youth soccer players to motivate towards continual success

And then they all finish the sentence for me, "getting worse". That's really the essence of it at times, progress beats winning in most scenarios. Listen, let's be clear, why play if not to win right? Well, yes... BUT remember, we're first tasked to teach the game while creating an environment of improvement and success. To adopt these goals will lead to building a winning culture and long-term success.

One key aspect that I learned in my beginning years as a coach is the notion that you can be vulnerable with players in the sense that you don't always need to know, or convey, complete and total understanding of... well the world. One of the simplest concepts that you can implement with your players is humility. We must put ourselves in their shoes and remember the journey we took to get where we are today. 

A harsh reality is the fact that the training culture is essentially what you will get in the game performance of players and your team. If you don't hold players to a high standard in training then please understand there's no pre-match pep talk that will inspire gladiator-like strength and focus. The answer lies in consistency. We as coaches must consistently teach players and allow them to become comfortable with feedback, both positive and constructive. If we are inconsistent as "teachers" of the team then accountability will be sacrificed and performance will follow.

To sum it up, be the leader who teaches their players the best way to grow and perform. Ensure that you are evolving as a coach and focusing on progress above all. Don't allow losing to become okay, instead show players how winning can be accomplished through steadily improving their weaknesses. 

Tip #3 – Explain the Reason Why

A good coach explains the “reason why” to their players during training. Many times coaches forget they may need to sell the team on the philosophy at hand, players at times must "buy in". It occurs every day on fields across the globe that players perform tasks and drills that they have absolutely no clue why they are doing it. A great coach explains why up front to manage motivation and focus so that players know exactly what they should be getting out of each session.

One of the most critical aspects of the game and an area that we as coaches need to improve on is the psychological aspects of player improvement. It's been proven that in explaining the "why" of an exercise allows humans to become more in tune with the prescribed outcome. It is human nature in most cases to always want to know the reason why they are doing something whether on the pitch or off. Use this to your advantage and tell players up front what you, they, and each other should expect of the drill.

We assure you this is a proven concept and it truly works. We encourage you not to slow your training down because of this but to instead work in your reasoning up front and throughout the natural stoppages of play.

Tip #4 – Celebrate The Small Victories — Both Individual and the Team

Listen, again, we know this is a controversial topic but we must throw out the fact that we need to consider the position we put players in and how they can experience success.

For example, if you plan to work on a shooting topic, you can very easily track success by showing their improvement in shooting percentage throughout the session. These would be examples of small successes and how you could incorporate them daily. Listen, we get it, time is everything and you may not have time to track the percents a player actually hits the frame or back of the net, but, it's an easy thing to simply recognize and address while it's happening. Keep it simple and do what works for your style, just remember, small victories happen each day!

Maybe you also have someone keeping stats on your team to measure things like turnovers, assists, tackles, and others. This would be a great way to celebrate individual successes throughout the season as it can be backed by tangible data. Anytime you can show players how they are improving with actual, verifiable data you will always make a positive impact!

For the team, don’t let a losing spell bring you or your team motivation down. As a coach, it can often be hard to look players in the face and convey that losing doesn't mean they've failed. This aspect can also be an opportunity for learning and if carefully managed worth more than it's weight in gold. If you can convey positive, bite-size victories from a loss most players will take that away and improve it. The key is reinforcement, reinforce the weaknesses and address them in the following training sessions so that players don't just move on and forget about the areas they need to improve on.

The bottom line, if you feel your players have improved, had fun, and have even learned valuable life lessons, then any event is a success! As coaches and adults, we have to remember to celebrate those successes, no matter the size.

Tip #5 – Meticulously Reward Hard Work

I've seen far too many coaches question why they don't get what they expect out of players. Then after watching them on the sideline or during a training session for a half hour I immediately know the issues. Coaches almost always get more of what they choose to reward players for. It’s actually a very simple philosophy. Human beings all have a desire to make others proud of them, it's in each of us from birth. Therefore as a coach, you should always be rewarding what you want to get more of. Things like hard work and effort should be top of the list.

So, a question we always see in coaching clinics is what positive reinforcement actually looks like?

Simply put, positive reinforcement is in theory giving a player a verbal reward immediately following an action that you want to see happen again and again. If a child gets positive reinforcement such as a reward for doing a behavior, they will focus on doing the right thing and repeating that behavior.

When a player does something positive, it is necessary that you reward them for their actions to reinforce the behavior. To be clear, positive reinforcement can be as simple as a two-word statement such as "great job", "well played", or even "brilliant tackle". The key to positive reinforcement is that it fits into what you're already doing as a coach. Keep it simple, implement it daily, and over time it will become an integral part of your coaching without even a second thought.  

 Here are a few phrases for you to consider:

  • Well played
  • Great ball
  • Great communication
  • Top notch save
  • Worldly tackle
  • And to our British counterparts, just throw in the term "mate" where applicable

After it's all said and done remember where we started, progress is critical! Now progress for players tends to be our focus but we encourage you to never forget your own progress as the leader of a team or organization. One the fastest ways to improving your players is first by improving yourself! Best of luck this season!

“Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practice and the coaches who have pushed you is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back… play for her.” – Mia Hamm

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