Motivating Athletes to Perform


It has become clear to me that sport psychology is a major factor in sport performance that often is overlooked. Since making the transition from training elite high schoolers to a team of professional athletes, the biggest difference between the two is how to motivate them during training sessions. The tactics used to motivate high school athletes are generally not going to work with a paid professional athlete. Dissecting the Vancouver Whitecap’s squad, we have players in the range of nineteen to thirty-eight years of age. What motivates a nineteen year old to perform will almost always be different than what motivates a thirty-eight year old.

Athletes are driven by two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. These concepts are the very basis of athlete’s motivation. Intrinsic motivation can be best defined as the love of the game. Athletes that possess a high level of intrinsic motivation are generally very hard workers that require very little motivation. Athletes that possess a high level of extrinsic motivation will often perform or give high levels of effort for rewards, such as money or praise from coaches. With professional athletes, you will generally see a mix of these personalities as they are getting paid to perform at their highest levels while some players may be grinding it out due to reasons that surpass monetary gains.

High schoolers and collegiate athletes obviously can’t be paid for their efforts, but finding other ways to reward your athletes that are extrinsically motivated is certainly possible. It could be as simple as a weight room record board where you post top performances in a given event or lift or a sticker on a football helmet that signifies accomplishments during a season. There are many different ways to reward an athlete. Finding a source of motivation that spans across an entire team is the difficult part.

Try to create a relationship with your athletes on a more personal level to understand what motivates them. Having a mutual respect between athletes and coaches creates the best formula for success.

John Grace

John Grace

Sport Performance Coach at Athletic Lab
John is a Sport Performance Coach at Athletic Lab. He earned his Master's degree from Ohio University in Coaching & Sport Science. John holds his CSCS, USAW-L1, and USATF-L1. He is the former Assistant Fitness Coach of the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
John Grace


Performance Coach | @ChicagoFire | I tweet about all things sport science, coaching, training, and athlete development.
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