The Essence of Motivation

The Essence of Motivation

Why athletes do what they do is the essence of motivation. The most likely reason is that they enjoy doing it. The key driver to motivation is accomplishment, and this achievement to some athletes feel good.


The coach needs to do more than teach and train their athletes how to play the game correctly. He needs to make his athletes understand that there is more to life than the scoreboard. Yes, skills are necessary for success, as education is necessary to be productive at work. But there is a broader scope in life.

The purpose to which athletes play must be something deeper than a score or victory. It must come from within the individual–an intrinsic motivation. It must be taught by the coach. Coach John Wooden noted, “a good coach can change a game. A great coach can change a life.” As Jody Redman summarizes it, “the goal is to win. The purpose is something deeper; it’s the reason why the game exists.”

During a normal marathon 162-game season, what motived baseball Hall of Fame outfielder for the Boston Red Sox, Jim Rice was his love for the game. “Having fun and playing, being the leader in the dugout, and making teammates better” was his drive. In what psychologists refer to as intrinsic motivation, however, the athlete decides to do something. The athlete finds the value in doing something, and he enjoys what he does.

Rice noted how his former coaches made an indelible impression throughout his career. Having played for Johnny Pesky, Eddie Yost, and Don Zimmer in his 15 years with Boston, each coach has imparted a lot of history around how to play the game. “You couldn’t see the talent in yourself,” he said, but these coaches could. “I see it,” Rice reminds us of how the effectiveness and influence a coach has on mentoring a young athlete. Motivational feedback can help increase athletic performance. Feedback, like the ones Rice received during his career, corrects misconceptions. Feedback offers instructional as well as motivational benefits.

But the impact of family, friends, teammates, and even the Red Sox organization helped the Hall of Famer’s motivation. The hometown friends watched him frequently on baseball’s Game of the Week and frequently communicated their thoughts on his performance. For some that may be pressure. However, for Rice, it was an extrinsic motion motivation that fueled the pride of his small hometown kin in Anderson, SC.

So how do we motivate ourselves and others?

Ask yourself, why are you playing sports? Is it for fame and recognition? Or is there personal value to yourself, family, and community? Know where you want to go. Have the patience to attain it. Learn from your failures, and what can be improved in the future.

Coaches, you can have a positive impact on your athletes. Be liberal with reinforcement, especially in the initial stages of learning. Have realistic expectations. Reinforce desired behaviors. Focus on the process, not just the results.


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