Monday, February 23, 2009

The best coaches create the conditions for the team to motivate itself

Dean Smith, who coached UNC to two national titles in the '80s and '90s, once said that coaches are hired to teach execution, not effort. Effort, according to Coach Smith, is the responsibility of each player.

Of course, that doesn't stop coaches at every level from not only demanding excellent effort, but trying to motivate their players to produce a better effort.

Nets coach Lawrence Frank recently spoke of working to get his guys to "compete harder."

Effort is defined as "the use of physical or mental energy to do something." Things like playing with a sense of urgency, focus, intensity, energy, passion -- all of these go in the "effort bucket."

Often, when teams lose, you'll hear words like "lethargic," "uninspired," or "lackadaisical" used to describe the losing team's effort. Similarly, teams that manage to stage upsets are described as "scrappy," "overachieving," or "spirited."

Unfortunately, as coaches know, there's not a magic formula for inspiring every player on a team to put forth their best effort throughout a game.

According to the book "Coaching Matters," Tom Landry, like Paul Brown before him, believed that emotion had "a limited effect... on the outcome of a game."

"Thought passion could be beneficial, Brown knew that it was simply a state of mind. It was not going to make a dramatic difference during a game and certainly wouldn't sustain a club throughout the course of a season. To depend on players to consistently achieve a higher emotional level than that of their opponents would surely be foolhardy, and sometimes counterproductive, Brown concluded."

Coach Landry learned from Coach Brown that it's not about "the most spirited, toughest, or strongest players." To him, it was about "systems, technique, and teamwork."

Mike Pelino, an assistant for the NY Rangers and Canada's National Hockey Team, believes a coach's job is two fold:

First, he has a responsibility to help each player develop to their full potential. Second is to bring a team's players together to form "a cohesive, successful unit."

To achieve these goals, a coach must be able to motivate players and encourage them to strive for levels they may not believe they are capable of reaching. Every player is unique and may need to be motivated in a different way. A coach must find out what motivates a specific individual and assist that player in drawing out this energy. The more personal attention and individual time spent with each player, the greater the opportunity for the coach to recognize how to develop that person’s passion.

So how does a coach "draw out" that energy in his players?

In 2004, Dr. Josè Maria Buceta, a psychology professor and the former head coach of the Spanish Women's National Team, wrote a story for FIBA's Assist magazine titled "The Motivation of Elite Players."

According to Dr. Buceta, while goal-setting is critical to success, "motivation that comes from within really makes the difference. If your players are not motivated to achieve goals, they won’t get far."

Think about this analogy. You have a car with a full tank of gas, a well-tuned engine, a good set of tires, and a sleek, polished exterior. The car sits by the roadway, ready to be used. This car has incredible potential. However, until a driver puts the key in the ignition, and starts up the engine, the car doesn’t function or move forward.

He suggests balancing team goals with individual ones, writing that "players must perceive enough individual benefit related to ambitious team goals, and then be an integral part of the decision-making process involved in setting goals."

This helps to ensure ownership. If that's missing, "their motivation to achieve the goals will be very weak, and, at some point during the season, any motivation efforts will become insufficient."

The professor concludes with this statement:

A good coach can be a catalyst for motivation in the short term, but the best coaches create the conditions for the team to motivate itself.