To motivate our athletes is what most softball coaches strive to do. The question though is what is motivation and what is motivating softball athletes? There are as many ways to describe motivation as there are ways to motivate. The key for you, is to learn what motivates your players so that you can provide the necessary environment and tools to contribute to their potential for success.
So often coaches get caught in the must win trap. So many reasons to win makes it difficult to stay focused on the process. Parents, the association or program your team belongs to, your athlete and of course your expectations create a pull towards outcome oriented planning. Focusing on what it takes to create success rather than the success itself will ensure that your team develops through the season and is as prepared as they can be for the final tournament.
The Love of The Game
By nurturing the love of the game in your players, you will create an environment where they can’t wait to get to the field. This makes motivating softball athletes easy. They will enjoy practicing as much as playing if the environment and culture is focused on learning, which allows them to make mistakes that they can build on.
Not all athletes have the same desired outcome as you or the program you are affiliated with do. That is why it would be helpful for you to conduct a survey of your players to see exactly why they are playing the game. Questions that focus on the game rather than why they are on the team will help you to design activities that can at least partially match their softball desires.
Many at the younger ages play on the team because their friend is playing. Often their motives grow more towards playing the game as they gain experience and confidence in their softball skills. By developing your players self esteem you are making their experience enjoyable as they strive to improve their skills in the game.
I like to use the term seriously have fun which means to have fun while working hard and learning, and to know when to be serious and when to be more relaxed. By minimizing stress and anxiety, athletes can enjoy the game without holding anything back.
Motivating softball athletes:
- intrinsic motivation
- extrinsic motivation
Wanting something because it makes us feel good inside is intrinsic motivation. It is the feeling of accomplishment of a job well done. This type of motivation makes the coaches job easy. A softball player who loves to practice and to compete is one who plays the game because they enjoy fielding, throwing and hitting the ball at any time. Again, in this environment motivating softball athletes is simple. The trick is to create this self directed environment where these athletes control their level of involvement at their own pace.
We seek internal gratification all the time. Finding what it is that motivates a softball player to come to the ball park at least 3 times per week is key to drawing on their internal motivation by ensuring that they are enjoying their experience on the field with the team.
This motivation is about attaining an external prize or reason for success. A trophy, an MVP award, a college scholarship are things that so many softball players are striving to achieve. Appealing to a player’s extrinsic motivation is like a double edge sword. It may motivate them short term but it can also cloud the player’s judgement and prevent a player from focusing on the process. As a coach it is critical that you are aware of these potential distractions and let your athletes know that even though you may be working towards those goals, there are many smaller accomplishments that need to be achieved during that journey.
Extrinsic motivation can be used as a way to develop intrinsic motivation as well. By using targets and some outcome goals as a part of the process, athletes will find a way to develop their skills to attain that goal. It is important however to not focus on the outcome goal but to use it as a tool.
Catch Them Doing Something Right
Coaches tend to spend more time correcting errors than they do praising a job well done. Error detection and correction is what we do to improve our athletes skills, however correct and successful skill execution acknowledgement makes the corrections easier.
Batting for example is a skill that is so over analysed that sometimes coaches can confuse an athlete before they help them. You will find that if you focus more on what needs correction than what is being done correctly, your athletes will not feel like they are improving which inhibits confidence. Try to build on the successes and add the corrections in a simple and methodical process.
Plan For Success
By keeping a positive outlook on your season you will have less stress in your dugout and you will feel less pressure to succeed. Sometimes we are so focused on winning that we forget that we have many things to do in the journey. Optimism is contagious and if your athletes know you are feeling good about the journey regardless of the outcome, they will feel good too. I guarantee it.